James Alms

1728-1791. He was born of humble origins at Gosport on 15 July 1728, the youngest son of John and Mary Alms, his father apparently enjoying employment as a servant to the Duke of Richmond. He was the uncle of Vice-Admiral James Alms.

Alms saw early service under the great naval officer, Hon. Edward Boscawen

Having been educated by an elder brother, Alms ran away to join a merchant vessel bound for Minorca, and here in 1741 a family friend persuaded him to join the navy. He was accepted aboard the Dragon 60, Captain Charles Watson, serving on the Mediterranean station, and he was soon rated midshipman. On 11 February 1744 he fought at the controversial Battle of Toulon, and when the Dragon returned home to be paid off in 1745 he removed with many of her crew to the Namur 74, Captain Hon. Edward Boscawen, serving in the Channel. On 3 May 1747 he was aboard the Namur when she fought in Vice-Admiral George Anson’s action with the French, known as the Battle of Cape Finisterre.

Shortly afterwards Boscawen was awarded his flag and the Namur sailed for the East Indies where the new admiral had been appointed commander-in-chief. Alms sailed with him, and he was one of only twenty-three survivors from the Namur’s crew of over six hundred men when the ship foundered in a hurricane ninety miles to the south of Madras on 12 April 1749. After the Namur had gone down he spent two hours in the water clinging to a piece of wreckage before being rescued by a raft constructed from the late ship’s booms. At the time Boscawen and a number of his officers were ashore, and hence were also spared. Alms was promoted lieutenant on 14 May 1749, and he joined the frigate Siren 20, Captain William Mantell, which returned home to be paid off in the summer of 1752.

After a short period on half-pay Alms was given permission to join the East Indian service, and sailing at the end of April 1754 he spent the next four years commanding a country ship, the Hardwicke, in voyages between Bombay and China. This vessel having been commandeered by the government, Alms was present at the successful attack on a pirate base at Geriah on the Mahratta coast by Rear-Admiral Charles Watson and Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive on 13 February 1756. He returned home with several companions in 1758, sailing up the Persian Gulf and then travelling overland via Aleppo to Latichea where they took ship to Venice and crossed the continent to England.

In March 1759 he was appointed first lieutenant of the Mars 74, flying the broad pennant of Commodore James Young, which ship formed part of the force blockading Brest, and on 20 November he fought at the Battle of Quiberon Bay. After serving with this vessel for a further two years off France he was promoted commander of a captured French privateer, renamed the Flamborough’s Prize 10, on 10 July 1761.

In November 1761 Alms assumed command of the Alarm 32 in order to take her out to the Jamaican station where he was to exchange with Captain Charles Wolseley of the sloop Ferret 14. This frigate was the first such vessel to be copper-bottomed. Having escorted a convoy out of Spithead on Christmas Day for Cork, he left the latter port for the Leeward Islands in February. After serving at the reduction of Martinique the Alarm joined Admiral Sir George Pocock’s fleet which was congregating to attack Havana, and whilst on passage to Cap François Alms captured two Curaçoa sloops of 18 and 12 guns respectively. This success was embellished when, after ordering his men to the sweeps, he took the Spanish Thetis 22 and a storeship, the Fénix 18 on 3 June, despite being wounded in the knee and having several musket balls pass through his hat. During this action he lost fourteen men killed and twenty-six wounded.

Whilst serving at the reduction of Havana Alms exchanged with Captain Wolseley into the Ferret, but upon Captain George Mackenzie becoming ill he exchanged with that officer into the Defiance 74, which ship he commanded in the latter stages of the campaign. He then transferred into the Cygnet 18 and returned to England in December via North America, having earned himself a good deal of prize money during the year he had been away.

Over the next few years both Commodore Hon. Augustus Keppel and his brother, the Duke of Albemarle, attempted to obtain Alms’ promotion but they were unsuccessful, and he was not posted captain until 20 June 1765. From that year he lived at Chichester before accepting the command of the frigate Montreal 32 in July 1770, being employed for three years in the Mediterranean. Thereafter he briefly commanded the Pallas 36 in 1773, fitting her out for foreign service in May but paying her off a month later.

In 1776 he was appointed the registering-captain for Sussex. At this time he was suffering from severe asthma and as a consequence he did not accept any sea-going appointments until December 1780 when he took command of the Monmouth 64, destined for the East Indies where it was hoped the climate would improve his health. In March 1781 he sailed for that station under the orders of Commodore George Johnstone, and he fought well at the disappointing Battle of Porto Praya on 16 April 1781.

Battle of Trincomale 1782

Leaving Johnstone’s squadron at Saldanha Bay, Alms joined Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes on 11 February 1782 following a refit at Bombay, and he fought at the Battles of Sadras on 17 February where due to the method of the French attack his ship was little engaged and suffered no casualties, and Providien on 12 April. During the latter action the Monmouth was reduced to a wreck by the gunfire of the French flagship, but she fought on with flags pinned to the stumps of her masts until being towed out of the battle. Her casualties amounted to forty-five men killed and one hundred and two wounded out of a complement of four hundred, and this was from a ship’s company that had already been decimated by disease. During the battle Alms was wounded by splinters to the face, had two musket balls pass through his hat, found his hair set alight, and suffered the great misfortune to lose his eldest son, George Pigot Alms, who was killed whilst employed as the first lieutenant of the flagship Superb 74.

Alms afterwards fought at the Battles of Negapatam on 6 July where casualties were just twelve men wounded, and Trincomale on 3 September, where the Monmouth came to the rescue of the Worcester 64. With his health deteriorating he was obliged to winter ashore at Madras, but he was fit enough to rejoin his ship and participate in the Battle of Cuddalore on 20 June 1783. In September he sailed for home, arriving at Spithead in June 1784 and retiring to Chichester.

Alms died on 8 June 1791 after a long and painful illness, and he was buried in Chichester Cathedral.

At his death he left a widow and five children.

Keppel described Alms as ‘an alert forceful man’. He was well regarded personally, and for his professional qualities.