Frederick Watkins

1770- 1856. He was born on 14 October 1770.

Watkins was one of the many officers commissioned lieutenant on 20 November 1790 at the conclusion of the Spanish Armament, and he was appointed to the Vigilant 64 for apparent purposes of rank only. On 7 April 1791 he joined the Fortune 16, Commander George Cadman, remaining with her in home waters until 13 November 1792.

On 5 January 1793, with the start of the French Revolutionary War imminent, he was appointed to the Shark 16, Commander Hon. Arthur Kaye Legge, who was succeeded in February by Commander Scory Barker, and which vessel went out to Newfoundland. Having later joined the Blanche 38, Watkins was her senior lieutenant at the capture of the French frigate Pique 38 off Guadeloupe on 4/5 January 1795, during which engagement the gallant Captain Robert Faulknor lost his life, thereby leaving Watkins to command the frigate to victory.

He was rewarded by being posted captain on 26 April 1795, and was shortly appointed to the frigate Resource 28, seeing employment in the attempt to defeat the French and rebels on the island of Grenada, for which purpose he landed with one hundred and fifty of his men; however, although he was personally praised for his conduct, the army suffered many casualties in an unsuccessful campaign. He participated in Rear-Admiral Hugh Christian’s campaign against St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada, and Dominica from April – June 1796, in which he again earned praise for his efforts, and on 10 December his command shared with the Mermaid 32, Captain Robert Waller Otway, in the capture of the corvette Général Leveau 16 off San Domingo, which prize was carried into Port Royal. The Resource left Saint Domingue with one hundred and sixty-three sail under convoy and other men-of-war on 6 June 1797, and after arriving in England she was paid off in September.

La Blanche towing La Pique, a French prize, 1795 by Robert Dodd

In the spring of 1799, Watkins was appointed to the recently captured French frigate Néréide 36, and at the end of July she was one of several frigates sent to Cork to embark troops. By the end of August she was in the Downs, from where she sailed to the westward on 16 September. In October, whilst walking in a field near Plymouth on a particularly dark evening, Watkins was assailed by two footpads and their large dog, but after slicing one across the arm with his sword, he managed to kill the dog when it was set upon him, and the footpads ran off. On 9 November the Nereide departed Plymouth to deliver a large amount of money the next day to Falmouth, and after departing on a cruise a week later, she continued to operate out of Plymouth, seeing some duty in the Channel Fleet.

On 6 January 1800 the Nereide was back at Plymouth from the Channel Fleet, and she was cruising in the Bay of Biscay on 2 March when she captured the Bordeaux privateer Vengeance 16 after a chase of twelve hours. On the next day she re-took the privateer’s prize, an American merchant ship, the Perseverance, which was valued at thirty thousand guineas once she was sent into Plymouth.

The Nereide next went out to the West Indies with a convoy, departing Plymouth for Cork on 10 May 1800, and leaving the Irish port on 1 June to arrive at Jamaica via Barbados with thirty-two vessels on 20 July. On 11 September, being off Curaçao in search of the French frigate Vengeance 48, Watkins was visited by a deputation from the Dutch island which, under invasion by republican forces from Guadeloupe, sought British protection. He immediately entered the harbour and two days later, on 13 September, agreed a capitulation, taking forty-four vessels into safe keeping, one of them a privateer. Nine days later he forced the small band of French troops to surrender, and amongst the prisoners was the infamous black French colonial governor, Victor Hugues, who had been captured whilst sailing for the island to lead the insurrection. Watkins equipped a prize schooner under the command of a lieutenant to send back to London with dispatches, and such were the prizes and stores found in the harbour that it was reported that the lieutenants alone would make from twelve to fourteen thousand guineas each. An additional and welcome find at Curaçao were four mutineers from the Hermione 32, who were sent to Jamaica for trial.

Having earned what was described as ‘a considerable fortune’ from his time in the West Indies, Watkins returned to England aboard the Nereide in February 1801, whereupon he went on half-pay. In August 1802 it was reported that in returning to his residence in Broomfield, Essex, he, his wife, and his mother-in-law, were badly injured when a mechanical failure on their carriage caused the passengers to be thrown under the distressed horses’ hooves. Remaining out of employment on the resumption of war with France in 1803, he appears to have lived a quiet life, other than a mention in the newspapers regarding a dispute over coursing at Audley End in Essex.

Watkins briefly rejoined the war against France when he was appointed to the Majestic 74 sometime after March 1808, which vessel flew the flag at Yarmouth of the commander-in-chief of the North Sea station, Vice-Admiral Thomas Macnamara Russell. However, on 9 March 1809 he was court-martialled and dismissed his command for disobedience of orders and contempt towards the commander-in-chief at the Nore, Rear-Admiral Thomas Wells.

During this period, Watkins’ apparent riches were eroded when prizemoney he had earned to the amount of eight thousand guineas was subjected to litigation, and he was ordered to repay that sum, in addition to six hundred guineas interest, this being an amount which he contended should have been settled by his agents, Messrs Cooke and Co, with whom he had deposited the prizemoney. As a result, he and his family fell on hard times, and it was later reported that he had to obtain a loan to pay off some minor debts, including a fifteen-guinea laundress bill. To compound matters, he failed to arrange an offset of the loan against his future half pay, as had been agreed, and after moving to Weymouth it appears that at some point he retired to the continent to avoid his creditors.

Watkins was promoted a superannuated rear-admiral on the retired list on 11 June 1814. During November 1815 an insolvent debtors’ court case was heard involving Messrs Cavanagh and Co, bankers from Bath, and Watkins, who was described as a late resident of the city, with the plaintiffs opposing the latter’s discharge on the accusation that he had obtained a loan of two hundred and fifty guineas by undue means. Several fraudulent practices were presented as evidence and Watkins was ordered to be remanded, although it appears that he was later discharged on the basis that part of his pension would be assigned to his creditors.

Sometime afterwards, and apparently having been alarmed by Watkins’ straitened circumstances, his erstwhile agents, Messrs Cooke and Co, refunded to him the six hundred guineas in interest that he had repaid on the forfeited prizemoney of eight thousand guineas several years before. However, rather than settle his debt with Messer’s Cavanagh and Co, Watkins, who by now appears to have suffered some form of breakdown, rushed off to Brighton and spent his newfound wealth on frivolous items, including bricks to build a house. In doing so he lost the lot. Attempts by his creditors to bring him back to court and have his discharge revoked were then delayed, for at the insistence of his friends, he was placed in what was described as ‘medical restraint’ near Hoxton in London. Once he was deemed fit enough, he was brought back to court in January 1817, but his obvious wretchedness and the testimony of his wife, who declared that she had not received a penny of the six hundred guineas, brought about a change of heart in the prosecutor, who immediately dropped the demand for Watkins’ discharge to be revoked. Thereafter, he appears to have lived out his life in obscurity.

Watkins was restored to the active list on 12 November 1840 and promoted admiral before returning to the reserve list on 1 July 1851. He died on 10 November 1856, at which time he was the oldest admiral in the service.

He married and had issue. In 1809 he published a work entitled ‘The Young Naval Hero; or Hints to Parents and Guardians on Educating and Preparing Young Gentlemen for His Majesty’s Navy.’ During 1805 he had a residence at Waltham Lodge, Essex.