James Saumarez 1st Baron de Saumarez

1757-1836. He was born to an eminent family at St. Peter Port in Guernsey on 11 March 1757, the third son of Doctor Matthew Saumarez and his wife Carteret le Marchant. He was the brother of the physician Richard Saumarez (1764-1835), and of Sir Thomas Saumarez (1760-1845) who served in the American war and became a full general in 1838. He was also the nephew of Captain Philip Saumarez, Commodore George Anson’s first lieutenant in his voyage around the world, and of Thomas Saumarez, who by bold manoeuvring and posturing captured the Belliqueux 64 without resistance off Lundy Island in 1758 whilst commanding the Antelope 54. The French vessel was in some distress, having lost her fore-topmast and being short of water and provisions following a difficult voyage home from Canada. When her captain reported aboard the Antelope, he was mortified to discover that he had been captured by a smaller vessel and sought to be allowed to return to his ship to fight an honourable engagement. Suffice to say the request was denied.

In late 1769 James Saumarez entered the navy, serving in the frigate Montreal 32, Captain James Alms, having previously been borne on the books of the Solebay 24, Captain Lucius O’Bryen, whilst still at school in London. Going out to the Mediterranean, he joined the Pembroke 60, Commodore Charles Proby, and transferred in November to the Winchelsea 32, Captain Samuel Goodall, who allowed him to study in his own library. In February 1772 he joined the Levant 28, Captain Samuel Thompson, and this vessel returned to England in April 1775. After passing his lieutenant’s examination Saumarez was appointed to the Bristol 50, flagship of Commodore Sir Peter Parker, going out to North America.

During the Battle for Charleston on 28 June a gun he was pointing was overturned causing seven deaths, and he later bravely tried to replace a spring on the ship’s cable whilst under fire. As a reward for his gallantry, he was promoted lieutenant on 11 July 1776, and from September he served aboard the Chatham 50, Captain Tobias Caulfield, flying Parker’s flag.


Lord de Saumarez

In February 1778 he was given command of the galley Spitfire 8, crewed by thirty-seven men, and after she had been involved in forty-seven actions, she was burned at Rhode Island on 4 August to prevent her capture by the enemy. Whilst subsequently acting as a messenger ashore between Vice-Admiral Lord Howe and Commodore John Brisbane he received the fire of the whole French fleet but escaped unharmed. He returned to England aboard the storeship Leviathan, Commander Joseph Tathwell, and after a short period in Guernsey was appointed first lieutenant of the Edgar 74, the flagship of Commodore John Elliot, which was commissioning at Woolwich. However, whilst taking passage in the Ambuscade 32, Captain Hon. Charles Phipps, he found that the Edgar had already sailed to the Channel fleet and when he joined that body, he was taken aboard the Victory 100.

From 1778-81 he remained in the Victory, which in turn served as the flagship in the Channel to Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel, Admiral Sir Charles Hardy, Admiral Francis Geary , Rear-Admiral Francis Drake, and Vice-Admiral Hyde Parker. In June 1781 he transferred with Vice-Admiral Parker to the Fortitude 74, and on 5 August saw excellent service as the flagship’s second lieutenant in the Battle of the Doggersbank. Following the battle, he was charged with taking the Preston 50 into port as her captain, Alexander Graeme, had been badly wounded in the action. Parker offered him a commission on the Cato 64, going out to his new command in the East Indies, but Saumarez fortuitously refused this and the ship was subsequently lost on passage.

On 23 August 1781 he was promoted commander and was appointed to the fireship Tisiphone 8, being employed in the Channel fleet and taking part in Rear-Admiral Kempenfelt’s brilliant attack on a French convoy on 12 December 1781. Later in the month he was sent by Kempenfelt to warn Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood in the West Indies of the Comte De Guichen’s approach, although in the event only two French sail of the line got through to that station.

After arriving at St. Kitts on 31 January 1782, Saumarez was posted on 7 February to the Russell 74 in place of the sickly Captain Hon. Henry Stanhope who exchanged into the Tisiphone and returned home with despatches. He commanded the Russell with a great deal of flair at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April, coming about from the van and resuming the attack on the French an hour before Admiral Sir George Rodney signalled the rest of the van to do so. This manoeuvre allowed him to engage the French flagship Ville de Paris, and he played no small part in her eventual surrender.

With the damaged Russell ordered home to England in convoy, he went on to half pay in May 1782 and lived for many years at Exeter or on Guernsey, devoting his time to such diverse activities as opening up Sunday schools and visiting France. During his excursion to the continent, he both surveyed the port of Cherbourg and was introduced to the King of France, nevertheless, rumours later surfaced that during this period he had been confined on account of his depressive spirits. He also enjoyed short appointments to the frigate Ambuscade 32 in 1787, a vessel he barely fitted out before paying her off at the termination of the Dutch Armament, and the Raisonnable 64 in 1790 when hostilities threatened with Spain during the Spanish Armament.

Upon the onset of war with France in January 1793 Saumarez was appointed to the Crescent 36, filling her with men from Exeter and Guernsey, and going out on various cruises from Portsmouth, during one of which he captured the Brest privateer cutter Club de Cherbourg 10 on 2 June. In the course of July, he escorted a convoy of eighty merchantmen from the Downs to Portsmouth, and at the end of that month sailed as a commodore in command of three frigates on a cruise.

On 20 October 1793 he captured the French frigate Réunion 36 in just two hours, receiving only one direct shot to his command and suffering no casualties. After bringing her into Spithead he was knighted on 5 November on being presented to the King by the Earl of Chatham, and he also received an award from the merchants of London. In early December he was sent to reconnoitre the coast around St. Malo, and whilst engaged on this mission he drove two armed ships and a cutter ashore near Saint-Briac-sur-Mer. At the beginning of 1794 he arrived at Cowes, having aboard the Earl of Moira and being in company with three other men-of-war and a convoy of a dozen troop transports from Guernsey.

Throughout 1794 Saumarez served under the orders of Rear-Admiral John MacBride in the Channel, taking command of a squadron of one sail of the line, three frigates and two sloops that set off on 11 May in search of a French force of three frigates that had been spotted off the Eddystone. On 8 June, whilst in company with the Druid 36 and Eurydice 20, he was assailed by five French men-of-war which were all larger than his consorts. Saumarez drove towards Guernsey, allowing the French to beleive his capture was inevitable whilst at the same time ensuring that his consorts could get clean away, however his local knowledge combined with that of the pilot, a fellow Guernsey man, allowed them to navigate a hitherto uncharted passage through the rocks and make good their own escape.

Returning to Plymouth, he set off on 20 June 1794 with five other frigates under his command for the coast of France. On 14 September his squadron, by now consisting of four other vessels, failed to answer signals from the Trusty 50, Captain William O’Brien Drury, when off Weymouth and were temporarily thought to be a French squadron intent on capturing the King who was at the resort, thereby creating no little alarm ashore.

HMS Orion

In March 1795 Saumarez was appointed to the Orion 74, taking his first lieutenant Charles Otter with him, and he commanded her at the Battle of Groix on 23 June where she suffered casualties of six men killed and eighteen wounded. After putting into Portsmouth in July he remained for the next six months on patrol off Rochefort in the company of two frigates before rejoining the main fleet off Brest. During the spring of 1796 the Orion underwent a refit at Portsmouth, and on 6 April she hosted the court-martial of Vice-Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis on the charge of failing to shift his flag into a frigate in order to sail for his command in the Leeward Islands.

In January 1797 the Orion formed part of Rear-Admiral William Parker’s squadron that was sent out to reinforce Admiral Sir John Jervis in the Mediterranean, and on 14 February he fought at the Battle of St. Vincent, where his ship was third in the line and took possession of the Salvador del Mundo 112, suffering nine men wounded. At the start of the battle Saumarez was active with Parker in pursuing six Spanish sail of the line, and later he also almost certainly received the surrender of the huge Santisima Trinidad, the largest ship in the world, although she subsequently re-hoisted her colours and fled the battle. Sadly Admiral Jervis was unaware of this part of the action, and his failure to mention it in his despatches caused much distress to Saumarez.

Thereafter the Orion assisted at the blockade of Cadiz until April 1798, when she was sent to join Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson in the Mediterranean, and Saumarez provided expert assistance in repairing the flagship Vanguard 74 after she had been badly damaged in a storm. He was senior captain and second-in-command at the Battle of the Nile on 1 August, being wounded in the side by a splinter, and with the Orion suffering casualties of thirteen men killed and twenty-nine wounded. His command was early into the battle, sinking the frigate Sérieuse 36 when she had the temerity to attack her, playing a leading role in forcing the surrender of the Peuple Souverain 74, and then moving up the line to attack other French ships. Typical of his nature however, the day after the battle he went aboard the flagship and started to voice his regrets about part of the action, whereupon Nelson turned his back on him and went below. Saumarez had never enjoyed Nelson’s full support and keenly felt the admiral’s preference for Captain Thomas Troubridge, being aware that prior to the battle the Orion had been under Admiral Lord St Vincent’s orders to return to England. He subsequently sailed to Gibraltar with the prizes and from there conveyed them to Lisbon, although his passage was interrupted in September at Malta where the inhabitants claimed, as it turned out falsely, that the French would give up their garrison to him.

On arrival at Portsmouth towards the end of November the Orion was found to be in need of significant repairs and thus was paid off in January 1799. After being feted by the Harmonic Society in Bath at the end of January and created a colonel of marines on 14 February, Saumarez was appointed to the Caesar 80 during the latter month, joining the Channel fleet off Brest. In July he arrived at Plymouth with Admiral Sir Alan Gardner’s squadron and five of the French prizes from the Battle of the Nile which had been collected from the Tagus, and at the turn of 1800 he was based at Jersey. The Caesar sailed from Plymouth to join the Channel Fleet in July where Saumarez took up command of the Inshore Squadron with much success. When the fleet was forced into Torbay by bad weather, he would take his squadron into Douarnenez Bay and ride out the storm so that he could hasten his return to Brest.


The Battle of Algecitas 1801


He was promoted rear-admiral on 1 January 1801, the list of promoted officers being specifically extended to include him, and remaining with the Caesar he took Jahleel Brenton as his flag-captain as he maintained his position off Brest, eventually returning to Plymouth at the beginning of June to be created a baronet on the 13th. No doubt of equal honour to Saumarez was the endorsement of the Channel Fleet commander-in-chief, Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent, who stated that when Saumarez had commanded the Inshore Squadron he was able to ‘sleep as soundly as if the key of Brest was in my possession’. During his period off the French base not one square rigged vessel had escaped or entered Brest.

Next ordered to command the blockade of Cadiz, Saumarez set sail from Plymouth on 14 June 1801 with a squadron of five sail of the line, a frigate, a brig and a lugger, and was joined off Spain by two further sail of the line, his flag remaining in the Caesar with Captain Brenton. On 5 July he learned that a French squadron of three ships of the line and a frigate had been forced to put into Algeciras, and he went to investigate with six sail of the line, leaving the Superb 74, Captain Richard Keats stationed off Cadiz. Upon arriving in Gibraltar Bay the next morning, 6 July, he went straight into the attack, but contrary winds, bold French resistance, and well-placed shore batteries forced his retirement after five hours, with the Hannibal 74, Captain Solomon Ferris, having grounded and struck to the enemy. Largely due to the great skill and tenacity of Captain Brenton he was able to get to sea again by the time the Superb appeared ahead of the Spanish from Cadiz on 12 July, and he now faced a Franco-Spanish squadron of nine ships with his five. Despite these odds Keats and the Superb provided one of the greatest services to the navy ever performed by one captain and his ship in leading the rout of the enemy who lost three thousand men and three vessels, thereby forcing even Nelson to conclude that a ‘greater battle was never fought’.

Saumarez was created a Knight of the Bath, awarded the freedom of London, and bestowed with the thanks of both houses of parliament as his reward, the motion in the Lords being proposed by St. Vincent and seconded by Nelson. Even so he was unhappy that he did not receive a peerage and was further upset when the force sent to blockade Cadiz was placed under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Pole and not him. Following several bitter letters, he fell out with St Vincent, who by now was the first lord of the Admiralty, and who also refused to let him return home, although in November there was some small compensation when General Charles O’Hara invested him with the Order of the Bath at Gibraltar. After superintending the evacuation of Minorca with Captain Hugh Downman serving as his flag-captain from April, Saumarez eventually returned to Portsmouth on 23 July 1802, having refused the peacetime command of the Mediterranean.

On the resumption of hostilities in 1803 he briefly held the command of the Nore station with his flag in the Zealand 64, Captain William Mitchell. In May he assumed the post of commander-in-chief at Guernsey, attacking the French port of Granville with his flag in the Cerberus 32, Captain William Selby, at the beginning of this posting on 13 September, but spending a great amount of time ashore in his own house. During this period his flag flew in the Grampus 50, Captain Thomas Caulfield, and from 19 June the Diomede 50, Captain Thomas Larcom, and after this vessel was sent for a refit he returned to the Cerberus. The Diomede returned to fly his flag from the beginning of 1804 under the command of Captain Hugh Downman who had replaced the terminally ill Larcom, and from November 1805 Saumarez’ flagship was the Inconstant 36, Captain Edward Stirling Dickson. At various other times he briefly flew his flag aboard a frigate, such as the Thisbe 28 en flute, Captain Lewis Shepheard, during 1805.

Saumarez was promoted vice-admiral on 13 December 1806, being the junior of six officers included in an advancement specifically undertaken to promote him, and in the same month he became second-in-command to Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent in the Channel with his flag aboard the San Josef 100, Captain John Conn. When this vessel was sent for a refit in March 1807, he joined the Prince of Wales 98, Captain William Bedford, taking command of the fleet off Ushant, and in late May transferred to the Hibernia 110, Captain Conn. He was replaced in this post in August at his own request following the arrival of Vice-Admiral Sir John Thomas Duckworth, whom Admiral Lord Gardner had invited to become his second-in-command, and after attending the King at a levee he returned to the command at Guernsey with his flag once more aboard the Inconstant.

Having refused the command of the East Indian station, Saumarez was recalled from Guernsey to be appointed to command a fleet in the Baltic in March 1808 with his flag aboard the Victory 100, Captain Philip Dumaresq, and with Captain George Hope serving as his captain of the fleet. Leaving London for Sheerness in the middle of April having kissed the King’s hand on his appointment, he sailed with the first division of his fleet from the Downs on 23 April. Initially his instructions were to aid the Swedes against France’s allies, the Russians and Danes, and to this purpose his fleet of twelve sail of the line assembled in the Baltic before the end of May to escort General Sir John Moore’s army of fourteen thousand troops on two hundred transports to Gothenburg. Unfortunately, however, Moore and King Gustavus IV could not agree terms for the employment of the Army and it promptly returned to England.

The Navy nevertheless remained in the Baltic, and on 26 August, whilst Saumarez was off the Danish island of Langeland, Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, who was his second-in-command and attached to the Swedish fleet, brilliantly destroyed a Russian sail of the line under the noses of their fleet off Roggersvik, the modern-day Paldiski in Estonia. At the end of August Saumarez arrived with four sail of the line to assist the Swedes in blockading the Russians in that port, but eventually the onset of winter forced his withdrawal and the Russians were able to sail away for their base at Kronstadt. Saumarez struck his flag for the winter after the Victory returned to Portsmouth on 10 November.

In January 1809 he attended the funeral of Admiral Lord Gardner at Bath, and on 27 April he resumed the command of the Baltic station when he set sail in the Victory from Sheerness amidst rumours that the Russian fleet was at sea. In the event there proved to be no threat to the British hegemony in the Baltic, and other than send a squadron under the command of Captain Aiskew Paffard Hollis to capture the strategic Danish island of Anholt on 18th May, the year was uneventful. In October he was off the Swedish base of Karlskrona and by the beginning of December was back in the Downs to winter at homeHMS Victory

In May 1810 Saumarez sailed from Yarmouth for the Baltic, and in the following month again appeared off Karlskrona where the Swedes, who had made peace with France and adopted one of Napoleon’s marshals, Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, as heir to their throne, claimed that their defences drove him off. He nevertheless remained in Hano Bay to the south of Karlskrona, and when the British minister was kicked out of Stockholm upon war being declared by Sweden on 17 November Saumarez wisely refused to take the offensive against them, although he resolutely ensured that any British vessels received his full protection. With a mere half a dozen sail of the line he was able to dissuade the Swedes and Russians from taking the offensive against him, and he continued to maintain a strict control over the Danes as it was essential to keep the Sound open for the safe passage of the British ships. In early December he arrived back in the Downs, having left a small number of vessels to protect the trade in the Baltic.

Having wintered in Guernsey, Saumarez returned to London in March 1811 to resume command of a strengthened Baltic fleet, and hoisting his flag on 20 April aboard the Victory at Portsmouth he set sail for his station five days later. By the beginning of May he was off Gothenburg with a dozen sail of the line, and after half a dozen reinforcements arrived, he remained in Wingo Sound in the Kattegat between Sweden and Denmark with a force of seven sail of the line, some nine others being dispersed elsewhere on the station. Generally, his conciliatory approach ensured that the Swedes remained passive, but in June he successfully demanded that they release a number of confiscated ships and cargo at the threat of seeing their fleet attacked in Karlskrona. During August the weather was so extremely hot that the woods on the coast were reported to be on fire, but the year ended with a savage winter, and although Saumarez himself arrived safely at Portsmouth on Boxing Day, three sail of the line from the Baltic foundered on 24-25 December with the loss of two thousand men having neglected his instructions not to leave for England after 1 November.

After wintering in London, he re-hoisted his flag aboard the Victory at Portsmouth on 14 April 1812, and by the beginning of May was back off Gothenburg to resume his cordial relations with the Swedes, going so far as to exchange dinners with the governor of Gothenburg and various ministers. In June Napoleon invaded Russia, and within a month peace was declared between Britain, Sweden and Russia. Thereafter his communications back to London generally involved the progress of the French campaign in Russia. Sadly, the year was marred by the death of his eldest daughter, Mary, at the age of 20 on Guernsey in October, and this tragedy occasioned his early return. Rear-Admiral George Hope was sent out to replace him, and on 10 November Saumarez disembarked at Yarmouth from the Pyramus 36, Captain James Whitley Deans Dundas, and left for London

During his period in command Saumarez’ diplomacy in allowing the Russians and Swedes to trade with the British and neutrals whilst they had been nominally allied to Napoleon had done much to forge a future alliance with Britain, and it had also influenced Napoleon to overreach himself by invading Russia in 1812. He was rewarded for his services by Sweden with a 2,000-guinea diamond hilted sword and also received the praise of Russia, Prussia and Austria. Later, on 24 June 1813, he was invested with a Grand Cross of the Swedish Order of the Sword by the Prince Regent at Carlton House.

Saumarez now entered a well-deserved period of semi-retirement. In the spring of 1814 he undertook a tour, and in November he arrived at Weymouth to join other nobility attending Princess Charlotte, this being a precursor to his life over the next few years when he was often listed as a ‘fashionable arrival’. On 4 June 1814 he was promoted to the rank of admiral, in July 1819 became rear-admiral of Great Britain, and in 1821 was created the vice-admiral of Great Britain.

Having in January 1821 declined the role of commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, he was from March 1824 until May 1827 the commander-in-chief at Plymouth with his flag in the Britannia 120, Captain Philip Pipon. On 15 September 1831, upon the coronation of William IV and at the behest of his friend Earl Grey, the new Prime Minister, he was raised to the peerage as Baron de Saumarez of Saumarez in Guernsey, and on 13 February 1832 he was appointed the last ever general of marines.

Thereafter Admiral Saumarez lived out his retirement on Guernsey, being feted by the islanders and participating actively in local religious and educational matters until his death on 9 October 1836. He was buried in the grounds of Câtel parish church.

He married Martha le Marchant of Guernsey on 27 October 1788 and had three sons and four daughters, his heir, James, taking holy orders. Another son, John Vincent, entered the Army. His nephew, Thomas Saumarez, died on 19 May 1823, days after having taken the acting-command of the Bann 20 at Ascension, whilst another nephew, Richard Saumarez, entered the service in 1806 and was posted captain in 1824. His grandson married the daughter of Rear-Admiral Sir Philip Broke.

Saumarez was bi-lingual, tall at just under six feet, handsome, fashionable and elegant, urbane and charitable, erect and correct, formal and ceremonious in manner, without the least affection or pride. Betsey Fremantle, wife of the admiral, described him as the ‘civilest man’ she knew. He was described as lacking a sense of humour, and as being strictly religious, and on his deathbed he was heard to be reciting a psalm. Unruffled and gallant in action, he was steady, placid and quietly spoken, although he confessed to irritable nerves and was liable to weight loss through worry. Saumarez was extremely sensitive and felt a slur heavily, being hurt on several occasions by the unfortunate omission of his name in despatches, and particularly after the Battle of Algeciras and again in 1814 when many contemporaries would probably have been raised to the peerage for their services. Petty grievances welled up inside him leading to depressions that would arouse the concerns of his friends. Some of his depressions would last for weeks on end and brought into question his fitness for high command. When still a young lieutenant he refused an invitation to Admiral Sir Hyde Parker’s table, having been rebuked by him on watch, which was at the time an unheard-of reaction. In 1834 William IV, who had made it plain that he never liked Saumarez, gave him such a dressing down because of his unfortunate absence from Admiral Sir Richard Keats’ funeral that he burst into tears.

Whilst not having Nelson’s love or respect, perhaps because he did not look for it and came over as aloof to the temperamental admiral, he did have his confidence, and they were close enough for Saumarez to send Nelson the gift of a case of wine. His crews worshipped him however and he rarely had the necessity to press men into the service, relying instead on volunteers from his native Guernsey. He was undeniably brave and was trusted by his seniors, and his work in the Baltic earned him a reputation as a skilled diplomat, although he was never popular in high circles and did not indulge in party politics. He was a great friend of the equally religious Rear-Admiral Sir Alexander Ball.