James Cranston

c1733- 1790. He was most probably of Scottish extraction.

Cranston joined the Navy on 20 February 1747 as a captain’s servant aboard the Warwick 60, Captain Robert Erskine, and he had been rated as an able seaman by the time that the Spanish sail of the line Glorioso 70 was attacked on 15 July, an action which resulted in Captain John Crookshanks of the Lark 44 being cashiered for his failure to support the Warwick. On 13 September 1747 Cranston removed to the Canterbury 60 with Captain Erskine, in which vessel he participated in the Battle of Santiago de Cuba on 9 April 1748. He then transferred with his patron on 2 August to the Milford 44 in the rank of midshipman, and he remained in that employment until January of the following year.

On 8 May 1749 he joined the Amazon 22, Captain Arthur Gardiner, remaining with her until 14 September 1752, when he was fortunate to continue in employment with his immediate posting to the Culloden 74, Captains Matthew Buckle and Henry Ward. Upon passing his lieutenant’s examination on 7 February 1753, he appears to have left the latter vessel.

On 21 March 1755, Cranston was commissioned lieutenant of the Essex 70, Captain Robert Harland, which vessel was attached to the Grand Fleet, and he remained with her until 5 September 1759, serving successively under Captains John Campbell and Lucius O’Brien, and reaching the position of second lieutenant. He then transferred to Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s flagship, the Royal George 100, Captain Campbell, in which he fought at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November, and by June 1760 he had risen through the wardroom ranks to become her second lieutenant.

He was promoted commander of the sloop Swallow 10 on 27 August 1760, in which he brought a captured St. Maloin privateer, the Valour 4, into Plymouth in January 1761, and on 12 February off the Isle of Oléron he took a homeward-bound letter-of-marque, the Tigre, with a rich cargo from Martinique. He appears to have left the Swallow in July.

640px-Holman,_Cape_St_Vincent (1)

Captain Cranston performed excellently in the Moonlight Battle of January 1780, but through ill-luck missed many other crucial actions of the American War of Revolution

Cranston was posted captain of the Squirrel 20 by the Admiralty on 7 April 1762, which vessel appears to have been in the Mediterranean at the time. Before he could join her, he was charged with commissioning the new Blenheim 90, which he took out of Portsmouth Harbour on 16 May with Admiral Hawke’s flag, prior to that officer removing to another ship shortly afterwards. Under Cranston’s command, the Blenheim arrived with a convoy at Gibraltar on 4 June, having also given passage to the governor of the Rock, General Edward Cornwallis. Transferring command of the Blenheim to Captain William Gordon, Cranston removed to the Squirrel, in which he continued on the Mediterranean station, and with which he arrived in the Tagus from Gibraltar in January 1763. The Squirrel eventually reached the Nore in April to perform quarantine, and he left her shortly afterwards.

After a period ‘on the beach’ he was appointed to the Plymouth-based guardship Ocean 90 in October 1770 for the duration of the Falkland Islands dispute, and on 17 June 1771 he joined the Intrepid 64, initially serving as a guardship at Plymouth, but then departing for the East Indies in April 1772. After voyaging to China towards the end of the year, the Intrepid returned home to Portsmouth in early March 1775, and following her departure for Plymouth at the end of the month, she was paid off in April.

In June 1778, with hostilities against France re-opening, Cranston recommissioned the newly launched Defence 74 at Plymouth, and at the end of August she dropped down into the Sound prior to joining the Grand Fleet. Unfortunately, she was too heavily laden with ballast, and when she did get to sea, she promptly sprung her bowsprit through excessive pitching and rolling and was obliged to retire to Spithead for repairs.

Although he had not been present at the Battle of Ushant on 27 July 1778 due to the Defence’s deficiencies, Cranston was chosen to sit on the court martials of both Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel in January 1779 and Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser in April, which highly-charged politically-motivated trials investigated the conduct of those officers during the inconclusive engagement with the French fleet. On the third day of Palliser’s court martial, proceedings were adjourned when Cranston was taken ill with what was described as a ‘rheumatic condition’ in the stomach and head, and his absence on further days led to the court sitting without him. Meanwhile, the Defence was still at Portsmouth in February 1779, and having been coppered in the spring, she joined the Channel Fleet with Captain John Symons acting for Cranston while he was indisposed.

At the end of 1779 the Defence, with Cranston back at the helm, joined Admiral Sir George Rodney’s Gibraltar-bound fleet, and she participated in the Moonlight Battle off Cape St. Vincent on 16 January 1780, being heavily engaged with the Fénix 80, flying the flag of Admiral Don Juan de Langara, which struck when cornered by other British men-of-war. As a result of the action, the Defence suffered casualties of ten men killed and twenty-one wounded. After a refit at Gibraltar, she was sent to Minorca with a merchant convoy in company with two other sail of the line, and she then sailed for home waters to re-join the Channel Fleet.

In July 1780 the Defence played a prominent part when the Channel Fleet intercepted a homeward-bound French West Indian convoy, taking one merchantman and leading the pursuit, albeit fruitlessly, of the escort vessel, the Fier 50. She was thereafter present in the Channel Fleet campaign of June-December, the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781, and the Channel Fleet campaign from June to November 1781. In October the Defence was one of eleven sail of the line that were ordered to fit out at Plymouth for foreign service, and Cranston left her in January 1782 when she was ordered to the East Indies.

In June 1782 he assumed command of the Bombay Castle 74, which ship had been gifted by the East India Company to the nation and was launched at Blackwall. However, although she sailed down the Thames from Woolwich towards the end of August, a two-month delay waiting for men meant that she was not ready for service by the time that Admiral Lord Howe sailed for the relief of Gibraltar on 11 September. She was at Spithead by the middle of October, and in early November she sailed with Commodore John Elliot’s squadron which had been ordered to see the West India convoy out to a safe latitude. She returned to Portsmouth with Howe’s fleet on 15 November, and in early December left Portsmouth on a cruise with the Pegase 74, Captain Hon. George Cranfield Berkeley, during which the two ships fell in with a thirty-strong enemy convoy under the escort of ten sail of the line which they conceived to be sailing from Brest to Cadiz. By the time that the Bombay Castle was ordered to lie up in ordinary at Portsmouth in February 1783 Cranston had left her, and he did not see any further service.

Captain Cranston died at his residence in Lewes on 31 July 1790, seven weeks before he would have been advanced to flag rank. He appears to have left a widow and a daughter.

At one point in his career, probably following the capture of the Fénix in 1780, he was presented with a small-sword by Admiral Lord Rodney.