Lord John Colville

1768-1849. Born on 15 March 1768, he was the second son of the 8th Lord Colville of Culross and of his wife, Amelia Webber. He was the elder brother of General Sir Charles Colville.

Colville entered the Navy on 12 December 1775 aboard the Isis 50, Captain Sir Charles Douglas, who sailed from England in March 1776 to relieve Quebec on 6 May. After moving with Douglas to the Stirling Castle 64 in 1777, Colville was appointed a midshipman of the Conqueror 74, Captain George Balfour, in June 1781, in which vessel he fought at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782.

After returning to England at the peace of 1783, Colville stood down from active employment. In 1786 his elder brother died, and he thus became the heir to the title of Lord Colville of Culross.

The Battle of the Saintes

Six months after the commencement of the French Revolutionary War in 1793, he returned to active service by joining the frigate Santa Margarita 36, Captain Eliab Harvey, with a lieutenant’s commission on 29 July. By January 1794 year he was serving as her first lieutenant in Rear-Admiral Sir John Jervis’ campaign against the French West Indian possessions. The Santa Margarita returned to England in the spring and was present at the destruction of the French frigate Volontaire 36 by Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren’s frigate squadron off the Penmarks on 23 August. Further service followed for Colville aboard the Glory 98, Captain Alexander Graeme, and the Impregnable 98, Captain Andrew Mitchell, both vessels flying the flag of Rear-Admiral John Bourmaster in the Channel.

On 28 August 1795 he was promoted commander of the fir-built sloop Star 16, which was fitting out after her recent launch at Rotherhithe. Seeing service in the North Sea and home waters, she fought an inconclusive three-hour action at the end of February 1796 with a French privateer off Berwick. The Star managed to avoid being raked after losing her topmast, but she was otherwise much cut up by the Frenchman’s long guns, to which she could little respond with her own carronades, and she retired to Leith having suffered one man killed and four wounded. She continued to serve in Scottish waters through the spring, and in early November she sailed from Portsmouth for Guernsey with a convoy.

Colville was posted captain on 6 December 1796, but he was still aboard the Star when she captured the French privateer Coup d’Essai 2 off the Isle of Wight on 20 December. For the next two-and-a-quarter years he remained unemployed ashore, during which period he was one of the fashionable arrivals at Cheltenham Spa in July 1797. On 16 March 1799 he was appointed to the newly launched Penelope 36 on a temporary basis for Captain Hon. Henry Blackwood, and he commanded the inshore blockade of Le Havre with a commodore’s broad pennant before reaching Spithead at the end of June after a cruise of eleven weeks, by which time Blackwood had joined the frigate. Retiring ashore once more, in February 1800 he was a visitor to Bath and in May to Cheltenham Spa.

In August 1800 Colville commissioned the newly launched frigate Ambuscade 36, serving initially in home waters, and putting out from Plymouth for the Channel in November. One of his first tasks was to bring the shipwrecked crews of the sloops Havick 18, Commander Philip Bartholemew, and Pelican 18, Commander John Thicknesse, into Plymouth on 22 November after their vessels had gone ashore in St. Aubyn’s Bay. Over the next six months the Ambuscade undertook a number of cruises to the Channel Islands and French coast out of Plymouth, at which port towards the end of February Colville was ordered by the local commander-in-chief, Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley, to return fourteen pressed men to the Lord Nelson privateer. On 12 May his command came into Portsmouth to fit for foreign service.

On 25 May 1801 the Ambuscade sailed for Cork to collect the trade for Jamaica, and she departed Ireland on 6 June, giving passage to Major-General George Nugent, the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, Captain Richard Dalling Dunn, who was going out to take command of the Southampton 32 following the death of Captain John Garnier, and Lieutenant-Colonel Mungo Noble, who sadly died on passage. By 16 July she was at Barbados prior to continuing for Jamaica, and she left Port Royal on 7 December on her voyage home, by which time news of a peace deal with France had been received. By 11 December she was off Saint-Domingue, and she arrived back at Portsmouth in the following January, bringing as passengers the sickly Captains Thomas Fremantle of the Ganges 74, and Thomas Foley of the Goliath 74. During the voyage home she fell in with five French frigates off the Start which were bound for Saint-Domingue.

At the beginning of March 1802, the Ambuscade dropped down to St. Helens to assume guardship duties, and days later she was ordered to sea, spending part of her time in search of smugglers. With peace having been ratified, she sailed for Marcou in May with the Penelope 36, Captain Hon. Henry Blackwood, to return control of the island to the French and bring away stores, and at the end of June she anchored off St. Helens before sailing for Sheerness in September to be paid off.

Colville was not immediately re-employed following the renewal of hostilities with France in the spring of 1803, but in November he arrived in Cumberland to take command of the Sea Fencibles, his principal responsibilities being the ports of Whitehaven, Maryport and Workington.

He returned to active service on 13 October 1804 when he was appointed to the forty-two-year-old Romney 50, which ship was in dock at Chatham before putting down to Sheerness on 19 October. She was paid on 31 October, and three days later she entered the Downs before on 8 November she sailed for Yarmouth. Despatched with supplies for Rear-Admiral Thomas Macnamara Russell’s squadron in the Texel, the Romney was wrecked on the Haak Sands on 19 November. The officers and crew were rescued by the Dutch and returned on parole to Yarmouth by Vice-Admiral Albert Kikkert, who in treating them with great humanity incurred the wrath of his French allies. On the last day of the year Colville, his officers and men were brought to a court martial at Sheerness aboard the Africaine 38 under the presidency of Captain Francis Pickmore to answer for the loss of the Romney. The disaster was attributed to pilot error, with one pilot being sentenced to twelve months in prison and a second to six months.

After taking his customary break at Bath, Colville returned to the Sea Fencibles with his appointment to command the Margate division from August 1805. On 23 March 1807 he returned once more to active service when appointed to the Hercule 74, which completed her manning at Sheerness on 14 July and joined Admiral Lord Gambier’s expedition to the Baltic, being present at the surrender of Copenhagen on 7 September. During November she was under the orders of Rear-Admiral Richard Keats at St. Helens when an intended secret mission involving twelve sail of the line fell through, and in December she and five other vessels came under the orders of Rear-Admiral William Albany Otway at Portsmouth; however, it was not until the end of January 1808 that she was ready to sail for Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Cotton’s squadron off Lisbon, for which she eventually departed on 4 February.

The Hercule remained at Lisbon throughout the spring and summer of 1808, and in accordance with the Convention of Cintra on 30 August she departed on 12 September with Rear-Admiral Charles Tyler to escort the impounded Russian Mediterranean fleet to England. On 27 October she was taken into Portsmouth Harbour, and at the end of November she was laid up on account of her poor condition. Colville was to remain on the beach for the next two and a half years, and despite reports in February 1810 that he had been appointed to the Theseus 74, he did not take her to sea, and by May Captain William Prowse was commanding her.

On 8 March 1811 he succeeded his father as Lord Colville of Culross, and although it has been reported that he temporarily commanded the Swiftsure 74 during August, he does not appear to have taken her to sea either. Instead, his return to active service occurred on 11 September when he was appointed to the Queen 98 at Sheerness, and on 27 November his new command sailed to join the squadron in the Basque Roads, Over the Christmas period she was in company with the Rhin 38, Captain Charles Malcolm, when the two vessels chased a pair of French frigates into Brest. She came into Portsmouth from Brest on 14 January 1812, and on 15 April she sailed for Plymouth and thence to the Basque Roads once more. She arrived at Plymouth from Rochefort on 29 July, and on 10 August she returned to Plymouth to refit, from which exercise she was released on 1 September.

For the greater part of 1813, the Queen saw service off the Texel, and in November she sailed for the West Indies with a convoy. A violent gale on 2 December saw several vessels under her charge reportedly founder and many others part company, but by 17 December the majority had rejoined at the Madeira rendezvous, from where the Queen departed with about one hundred and thirty sail in company.

On 9 February 1814, upon being relieved as commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands, Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Laforey hoisted his flag aboard the Queen under Colville’s captaincy and set sail from Barbados for the Surinam River following reports that an American frigate, presumed to be the Constitution 44, had chased a British brig into that waterway. The mission proved to be fruitless, and on 4 May the Queen sailed from St. Thomas’ for home with the last West Indian convoy of the war, totalling over three hundred vessels. She arrived at Portsmouth on 17 June, and in August she was ordered around to Plymouth for docking and to be paid off.

For the next seven years Colville remained ashore. Taking his place in the highest levels of society, he regularly visited Bath in the spring, Cheltenham in the summer, and attended levees at Court. On 24 July 1818 he was elected a Scottish representative peer to the House of Lords, and in retaining this seat until 22 October 1849, he proved to be a most assiduous member of the chamber.

Lord Colville was a witness when George Stephenson’s locomotive ‘Rocket’ ran over renowned politician William Huskisson in 1830.

He was promoted rear-admiral on 12 August 1819, and he hoisted his flag at Portsmouth aboard the Semiramis 36, Captain Thomas Huskisson, as the commander-in-chief at Cork on 10 November 1821, sailing for his station via Plymouth, and arriving on 9 December after being delayed by contrary winds. In April 1822 Captain Peter Ribouleau became his flag-captain aboard the Semiramis, and in July 1823 Colville was one of the notables who received King George IV on the occasion of his visit to Dublin. He remained the commander-in-chief at Cork until April 1825, and upon his return to London he was presented to the King at a huge levee.

Resuming his active role in the House of Lords and his place in society, he was advanced to the rank of vice-admiral on 22 July 1830. Shortly afterwards he visited Edinburgh, and on 15 September he was one of the dignitaries, including the Duke of Wellington, who were invited to attend the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The occasion was tragically marred when the eminent politician and half-brother of Colville’s erstwhile flag-captain, William Huskisson, was struck and fatally wounded by George Stephenson’s locomotive ‘Rocket’ at Parkside Railway Station. Colville cradled the dying man’s head in the carriage of a second locomotive, the ‘Northumbrian’, as it raced to Eccles, but after being carried to a friend’s house, Huskisson expired.

On 1 September 1833 Colville was one of several prominent Britons who waited upon King Louis Philippe of France on his visit to Cherbourg. By now he was a regular visitor to fashionable Brighton, whilst back in London on March 1836 he was robbed in Piccadilly of his gold repeating watch when a mob gathered to observe a fire which was raging in Burlington Arcade. A further visit to France was made in September 1838 when he departed Brighton for Dieppe aboard the steam packet Belfast.

He was designated a lord in waiting to Prince Albert in September 1841, requiring him to provide additional attendance alongside Queen Victoria’s consort on his official duties, and he was promoted admiral on 23 November. In December 1843 he resigned his position as a lord of the bedchamber to be immediately installed as an extra lord of the bedchamber, but he still associated with the highest ranks of society, making regular appearances at court and in Bath and Brighton. By now his health was beginning to fade, and from 1846 his speech in the House of Lords was described as ‘very inaudible’ and ‘indistinct’.

In July 1847 Colville was a pallbearer at the funeral of Admiral Hon. Sir Robert Stopford, but in the autumn of the following year his ill-health saw him confined to his residence in Portland Place, London, and he died there on 22 December 1849. His title descended on his nephew.

He was married twice, firstly to Elizabeth Ford on 14 October 1790, who died on 19 August 1819, and secondly on 15 October 1841 at Marylebone Church to Hon. Anne Law, the sister of the former First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Ellenborough. The latter wedding had been delayed from the previous day due to a sudden illness which had inflicted his brother, General Sir Charles Colville. The couple spent their honeymoon at Kidbrooke Park near East Grinstead in Sussex. Neither marriage produced any children.