Edward Rotheram

1753-1830. Born on 27 December 1753 at Hexham, Northumberland, he was the second son of seven children of Dr John Rotheram and of his wife, Catherine Roberts. His brother was Professor John Rotheram, an esteemed natural philosopher.

Rotheram was educated in Newcastle, and his early sea-going life was spent aboard a Newcastle collier before he entered the Navy on 17 April 1777 as an able seaman on the Centaur 74, Captain Richard Hughes, serving in home waters. He remained with the Centaur, being in time rated midshipman and then master’s mate, and after Captain Phillips Cosby assumed command in March 1778, he fought at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July. His final commander in the Centaur was Captain John Neale Pleydell Nott, under whom he served in the Channel Fleet Retreat of August 1779, and at the detention of the Dutch convoy on 31 December.

On 29 April 1780 he joined the Barfleur 98, Captain Benjamin Hill, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington in the Channel Fleet, and on 13 October he became an acting-lieutenant aboard the Monarch 74, Captain Francis Reynolds, serving with Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood’s reinforcements going out to the West Indies. He was present at the Battles of Martinique on 29 April 1781, Chesapeake Bay on 5 September and those of St. Kitts on 26 January 1782 and the Saintes on 12 April. He left the Monarch on 30 June 1783 after she returned to England, by which time his rank as lieutenant had been confirmed on 19 April.

Captain Edward Rotheram

Rotheram was not re-employed until 16 May 1787, when he joined the Plymouth guardship Bombay Castle 74, Captain Robert Fanshawe, on which vessel he remained until 8 April 1788. A further two years on the beach followed before, on 6 April 1790, he joined the Culloden 74, Captain Henry Colins, attached to the Grand Fleet during the Spanish Armament. In October the Culloden came under orders for the West Indies at a time when Rotheram was on sick leave, and from 29 December to 7 September 1791, during the course of the Russian Armament, he served aboard the Vengeance 74, Captain Sir Thomas Rich.

On 26 December 1792 he was re-appointed as the first lieutenant to the Culloden 74 with Captain Rich, and in 1794 he fought aboard her at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, where she was commanded by Captain Isaac Schomberg. During the engagement he was sent to take possession of the Vengeur 74, which had been heavily battered by the Brunswick 74, and he earned great praise from friend and foe alike for saving so many Frenchmen from that vessel when she subsequently sunk.

Rotheram was promoted commander of the floating battery Spanker 24 on 6 July 1794, although this appears to have been for purposes of rank only. He returned to sea in command of the storeship Camel 44 on 24 January 1795, going out to the Mediterranean in February, and coming back to Portsmouth from Gibraltar at the end of April 1796, having given passage to the governor, General Charles Rainsford. His command then proceeded around to the Downs with a large convoy of coasters, and he retained her until 21 August.

Operating out of Plymouth, he commanded the Camilla 20 off the Isle of Marcou from 28 November 1796 as an acting captain for Richard Dacres, leaving the position on 29 January 1797, three days after arriving off St. Helens. On 4 February he joined the Hawke 16, serving in the North Sea, and taking the diplomat, George Hammond, out to Cuxhaven in April for his mission to Vienna. She returned to Yarmouth with what was described as a considerable amount of gold, and she was in the Downs during October, having been employed in convoy duty.

In January 1798 the Hawke departed for the Leeward Islands as part of the escort to a convoy and remaining on that station she took the privateers Furet 3 off Grenada on 15 March and Mahomet 4 off St. Lucia on 8 July. Rotheram left the Hawke on 18 June 1800 and according to his personal testimony briefly commanded the Unité 38 on a temporary basis in the Leeward Islands, which appointment may have occurred due to the illness of Captain Alexander Fraser of the Diana 38, and the transfer of the Unité’s captain, John Poo Beresford, to that vessel. On 13 July he was appointed the acting-captain of the Lapwing 28, and at the end of the month departed Tortola with the West Indies convoy and its escort to arrive at Portsmouth with eighty-five sail on 23 September. Going around to Sheerness to be docked, the Lapwing was paid off on 17 October, yet Rotheram rejoined her after a period of leave at the end of the month, having officially been posted captain with seniority from 27 August.

On 12 January 1801 the Lapwing departed Sheerness, and a week later she was at Portsmouth from where she soon went out on a cruise. She formed part of the escort of the Lisbon and Mediterranean convoys which left Portsmouth on 18 February, but shortly afterwards these fleets entered the Portland Roads in consequence of the rupture with the Armed Neutrality, and on 23 March they returned to Portsmouth. In early April the Lapwing undertook an unsuccessful chase of two French frigates from Le Havre in the company of the Jason 36, which was under the acting-captaincy of Lieutenant Woodley Losack, but their boats did cut a captured merchantman out of Cherbourg, to which port the French frigates had fled. Rotheram’s frigate then returned to Portsmouth on 14 April prior to departing for Lisbon a few days later with dispatches and a convoy to arrive in the Tagus on the 29th. On her return voyage she anchored off Spithead with her convoy on 25 May before going around to reach the Downs on the 29th.

In June 1801 the Lapwing joined the frigate squadron off Le Havre, and continuing to serve off that port for some months, she sent a number of detained vessels back to England. During October she was replenished at Plymouth for a four-month cruise, but in early November she was ran into by the Spitfire sloop, Commander Robert Keen, at Guernsey during a heavy storm, fortunately without suffering a great deal of damage. She returned to Plymouth, and in December was in Cawsand Bay with the fleet before being taken into Plymouth Dock to effect repairs, and for a refit and coppering at the end of January 1802.

By the beginning of April 1802, the Lapwing was fitted for sea and had gone up to Plymouth Sound. With so many ships being paid off at the peace, she received instructions to deliver Scottish seamen to their home ports in Edinburgh, Leith, and the Hebrides, and was paid six months wages. She sailed on 20 April with two hundred Scottish seamen, and by 5 May she was passing the Downs on her return voyage to Portsmouth. During June the Lapwing was off Brighton where Rotheram was often seen parading ashore on the Steine, and in mid-July she was off St. Helens, before returning to Brighton. She then briefly visited Portsmouth before sailing for Sheerness to be paid off on 28 September.

The Royal Sovereign breaks the line at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Rotheram was not re-employed until 15 December 1804, on which date he was appointed to the flagship of Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, the Dreadnought 98, which at the time was lying in Cawsand Bay. Initially serving with the Channel Fleet off Brest, she arrived off Ferrol during April 1805 where Collingwood became the second in command to Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder. In May Collingwood took command of a small squadron of four sail of the line off Cadiz. This force witnessed the arrival of Vice-Admiral Pierre Villeneuve and the combined fleet which had fought the Battle of Cape Finisterre against Calder’s fleet on 22 July. Refusing to be intimidated by the sixteen sail of the line that were despatched to chase him off, Collingwood ordered his squadron to return and keep watch on the allies in Cadiz, off which port ships from various British squadrons soon began to congregate, and where Vice-Admiral Viscount Nelson arrived to assume command.

After transferring with Collingwood to the Royal Sovereign 100 on 10 October 1805, Rotheram fought at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October. Before the battle there existed some ill-feeling between admiral and flag captain, but this was soothed by Nelson with the comment that on such a day all Englishmen should be brothers. When Rotheram was asked to remove his cocked hat prior to the battle in order that he should not become a target for sharpshooters he refused, stating that he had always worn a cocked hat and would continue to do so. His ship led the lee line gloriously, captured the Santa Ana 112, and in losing her main and mizzen masts she suffered casualties of forty-seven men killed and ninety-four wounded.

On 4 November 1805 Rotheram transferred into the shattered Bellerophon 74 in place of Captain John Cooke who had been killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. Departing for England with the Victory 100 and Belleisle 74, they were off Start Point, Devon, on 2 December, from where she anchored in Cawsand Bay, prior to entering dock three weeks later to be repaired.

Rotheram participated in Nelson’s funeral at St. Pauls Cathedral in London on 9 January 1806, and by the end of February he had rejoined the repaired Bellerophon, which dropped down to Cawsand Bay. On 13 March she sailed to join the Channel Fleet in its relentless blockade of the Brittany coast, and in April she was detached with Rear-Admiral Eliab Harvey’s squadron which was sent to cruise off Cape Finisterre. At the end of July, she arrived at Yarmouth to join the North Sea squadron, departing almost immediately for the Texel blockade, but by 23 August she was back at Plymouth to be refitted and victualled. At the end of the month, she sailed to rejoin the Channel Fleet with bullocks for her consorts and she continued with that force, occasionally putting back to Torbay with the fleet, until on 8 February 1807 she sailed for Plymouth to repair damages caused aloft by a squall, during which incident the frigate Phoebe 36, Captain James Oswald, had been obliged to assist her.

On 4 March 1807 the Bellerophon sailed to join the Channel Fleet once more, but she was back at Plymouth on 13 April, and four days later Rotheram faced a court-martial aboard the Salvador del Mundo 112 in the Hamoaze under the presidency of Rear-Admiral John Sutton, being found partly guilty of un-officer-like conduct and receiving a reprimand. Another charge, that of oppression over his officers and the chaplain, was not proved. On 21 April the Bellerophon sailed once more for Brest, in May she joined the Rochefort squadron, by June she was back at Torbay with the fleet, and she then served off Brest under the orders of Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez. In September one man was killed when she was struck by lightning, and on 4 October she returned to Plymouth for repairs to the damage that had been sustained in that incident.

On 18 November 1807 Rear-Admiral Albemarle Bertie raised his flag aboard the Bellerophon in the Hamoaze, but it wasn’t until the last week of January 1808 that she went out of the harbour, whereupon she sailed with the admiral for the Channel Fleet on 9 February. She was back in Torbay with elements of the fleet on 20 March, but soon returned to sea. In early April Admiral Bertie left the Bellerophon after she had again returned to Torbay, she was attached to a squadron under Rear-Admiral Hon. Michael de Courcy that was due to sail on a secret expedition from Plymouth in May, but appears to have been cancelled, and she returned thereafter to the Channel Fleet. Rotheram remained in command until 7 June when he retired ashore after Admiral Lord Gardner had taken her for his flagship in the Downs.

He appears to have lived thereafter at Stonehouse in Plymouth, and at the end of the war was nominated a C.B. on 4 June 1815. In May 1828 he became a captain of Greenwich Hospital after repeated belligerent requests for employment, although this particular advancement was on the recommendation of the Duke of Clarence.

Captain Rotheram died of apoplexy on 2 November 1830 in a friend’s house at Bildeston, Suffolk, and he was buried in the local churchyard of St. Mary Magdalene.

He married Dorothea Harle of Newcastle in Edinburgh on 5 March 1785 with whom he had three daughters. His wife died in April 1824.

Rotheram has been described an easygoing officer with a dry sense of humour, but he had a poor reputation in the service. Lord Collingwood considered him to be fairly useless and wondered how the Navy had ever promoted him, scathingly comparing him to a coal trader, and describing him as fat and stupid, and on one occasion even haranguing him on the quarterdeck with ‘how strange you should grow so big and know so little’. He was undoubtedly brave, however. When in command of the Bellerophon he conducted a survey of his crew, taking account of height, build, colour, and distinguishing tattoos.