Peter Rainier

1741-1808. He was born on 24 November 1741, the second of four sons of a merchant, Peter Rainier of Sandwich, and his wife, Sarah Spratt. His grandfather, Daniel Regnier, was of French Huguenot extraction.

Educated initially at Tonbridge in Kent, Rainier entered the service in 1756 as an able seaman aboard the Oxford 50, Captain William Harman, transferring shortly afterwards to the Elizabeth 70, Captain Richard Kempenfelt, which ship carried the flag of Rear-Admiral Charles Steevens out to the East Indies in the spring of 1757. Here in February 1758, he joined Vice-Admiral George Pocock’s flagship Yarmouth 64, Captain John Harrison, and thereafter he served in the East Indies aboard the Tiger 60, Captain Thomas Latham, being present at Pocock’s actions with the French off Cuddalore and Negapatam in 1758 and 1759. In June 1760 he rejoined Steevens aboard the Norfolk 74, Captain Richard Kempenfelt, in which ship he served at the siege of Pondicherry and then under the flag of Vice-Admiral Samuel Cornish at the reduction of Manila in the autumn of 1762.

Admiral Peter Rainier

The Norfolk returned to England in 1764 and was paid off, whereupon Rainier took command of a family merchant vessel trading across the Atlantic. On 2 February 1768 he passed his lieutenant’s examination but having been commissioned on 26 May 1768 and nominally appointed to the Sheerness 24 he was not re-employed in the navy until January 1774 when he joined the Maidstone 32, Captain Alan Gardner, serving on the Jamaican station.

On 3 May 1777 he was promoted commander of a recently purchased merchantman that was commissioned as the sloop Ostrich 14 by Vice-Admiral Clark Gayton at Jamaica, to whom he had been first lieutenant. He was severely wounded by a musket ball that passed completely through his left breast during the capture of the superior American privateer Polly 16 on 8 July 1778, being joined in this action by a tender, the Lowestoffe’s Prize. The engagement was at a considerable cost to the enemy vessel which suffered casualties of more than the twenty-three men dead that were counted on her deck when she was boarded. The Ostrich lost five men killed and twenty-eight wounded, two of them fatally. After returning to England to convalesce Rainier was posted captain by the Admiralty on 29 October.

In January 1779 he was appointed to the Burford 70 which went out to the East Indies that spring with Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes’ squadron. Here he fought in all of the actions against the Balli de Suffren, these being the Battles of Sadras on 17 February 1782, where due to the method of the French attack his ship saw little action and no casualties, Providien on 12 April, where she suffered six men killed and thirty-six wounded, Negapatam on 6 July where she lost seven men killed and thirty-four wounded, Trincomale on 3 September where casualties were four men killed and thirty-eight wounded, and Cuddalore on 20 June 1783 with ten men killed and twenty wounded. The Burford returned to Woolwich in the early summer of 1784 with Commodore Richard King’s squadron.

Rainier remained unemployed until the autumn of 1786 when he recommissioned the Astraea 32, going out to Ferrol and Madeira before sailing for Jamaica at the beginning of the following year where his old captain and patron, Commodore Alan Gardner, commanded the station. After returning home in May 1790 the Astraea was paid off, but on 26 June he joined the Monarch 74, serving in the Channel for the duration of the Spanish Armament in 1790 and the Russian Armament in 1791 until paid off in September of the latter year.

At the commencement of hostilities with revolutionary France at the beginning of 1793 Rainier recommissioned the Suffolk 74, and during July – August he participated in the Channel Fleet cruise.

In the latter part of 1793 he was appointed commodore and commander-in-chief in the East Indies, apparently at the instigation of Gardner who as a member of the Board of Admiralty had some influence over the decision, and who had himself been considered too senior for what was deemed an unexacting station. Sailing initially under the protection of Admiral Lord Howe’s Channel fleet on 2 May 1794 with his broad pennant aboard the Suffolk 74, Rainier was detached with the East India convoy and arrived at Madras in September, having at no time had recourse to touch land in the course of his voyage, which was considered to be a magnificent achievement.

On 1 June 1795 he was promoted rear-admiral, and on 26 August he assisted Colonel James Stuart in the capture from the Dutch of the safe harbour of Trincomale, his flag being aboard the Suffolk, Commander Robert Lambert, who had succeeded the late Captain John Doling after that officer’s brief command. Notwithstanding this success the inferiority of Rainier’s fleet, which represented a huge proportion of the older commissioned ships, prevented him from making any great impression on the active French.

A further threat to his hopes of achievement came with his intended replacement by Vice-Admiral Sir George Keith Elphinstone, who arrived at Madras in January 1796 having recently captured the Cape from the Dutch. Somewhat providentially at the time of Elphinstone’s arrival Rainier was effecting the capture of Amboyna and Banda Neira, the present day Moluccan Islands in a campaign during February-March. This venture earned him a massive fortune of some £28,000, which would be the equivalent of £2.25m today, whilst his nephew John Spratt Rainier, one of the six captains involved, earned a further £15,000. Upon returning to Madras Rainier had the further satisfaction to learn that Elphinstone had returned to the Cape to organise its defence and would never come back to Indian waters. He also learned that during his absence at Amboyna Captain Alan Hyde Gardner had completed the capture of Colombo, Ceylon, on 15 February.

Rainier thereafter remained in command of the East Indian station, and from April 1798 he was active in support of the new governor general, Richard Wellesley, in his attempts to increase British influence in India, and in thwarting Rear-Admiral Pierre César-Charles-Guillaume Sercey’s attempts to disrupt the British trade. In June he received a new flag captain when Captain Robert Lambert returned home and Captain Pulteney Malcolm assumed those duties, and on a personal level he was promoted a vice-admiral on 14 February 1799.

On 27 April 1799 a small expedition sent by Rainier under the command of his nephew, Captain John Sprat Rainier, arrived at Suez and began operations to attack the French in Egypt. This force was later superseded by a squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral John Blankett, which was sent out from England.

In May 1800 he received instructions to pool resources with Wellesley for the capture of the strategic Dutch possession of Java, and as a precursor to this assault his ships set off to blockade Batavia. These orders were soon countermanded with further instructions to attack the French base at Mauritius from where cruisers continued to cause havoc with the British trade. On 23 August a squadron led by Captain Henry Lidgbird Ball entered the Batavia Roads and captured five Dutch ships as well as destroying another twenty-two, but in the event neither the attack on Java or Mauritius took place, and in October the blockade of Batavia was called off.

Fort St. George, Madras, where Rainier spent much of his time in command of the East Indies station

During 1801 Rainier shifted his flag with Captain Malcolm into the Victorious 74, although he often flew his flag aboard the Intrepid 64, Captain William Hargood. Following the peace of Amiens Rainier was retained in the command of the East Indies station with his flag aboard the Centurion 50, Captain John Spratt Rainier, and in July 1803 as war clouds re-gathered, he was involved in a stand-off with Rear-Admiral Durand Linois at Pondicherry when the British refused to hand that territory back to the French in accordance with the peace treaty. Subsequently he was criticised for not pursuing the French when the declaration of war was received.

Later in 1803 Rainier flew his flag aboard the Sheerness 44, Captain James Lind, and the Trident 64, Acting-Captain Hugh Hanway Christian and Thomas Captain Surridge. He eventually departed for England on 10 March 1805 aboard the Trident, Captain Benjamin Page, in escort of the most valuable convoy ever to leave the East Indies, reaching St. Helena on 20 June and departing three weeks later to arrive in the Downs on 9 September. One passenger on the voyage home was Major-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, and another was by all accounts a leopard.

On 9 November 1805 he was promoted admiral, and in retirement he continued to advise the government on East Indian affairs. Having failed to acquire the Admiralty nomination he nevertheless became the independent M.P. for Sandwich in May 1807, in which capacity he was seen as supporting the government.

Rainier died at Great George Street, Westminster, on 7 April 1808 of ‘an abscess formed in his thigh which his extreme corpulence rendered inoperable’. He was buried at St. Mary’s Church, Sandwich.

He was unmarried but during his command of the East Indies station he rapidly advanced his nephews, John Spratt Rainier and Peter Rainier, the latter rising through the ranks from midshipman to post captain within one year, although he did prove to be worthy of this elevation. Rainier was the brother-in-law of Admiral James Vashon who had married his sister in 1791. His fortune from prizemoney, valued at £250,000 or the equivalent of twenty million pounds in today’s times, probably exceeded that of any other commander-in-chief during the Georgian wars, and his will bequeathed a tenth of this fortune to the country to reduce the National Debt.

During his early career Rainier had benefitted greatly from the patronage of Admiral Lord Gardner and the secretary to the Admiralty and Sandwich M.P., Philip Stephens. Apparently, a particular lover of mangoes, he was a rotund, eccentric man of unimposing looks and heavy glasses, but was viewed as sound and a safe pair of hands whose administration was excellent, and whose co-operation with the East India Company vastly enhanced British trade and control. Somewhat reactionary, his command of the East Indies station required him to make a number of important decisions without reference to the far distant government. He was described as ‘excellent’ and ‘effective, eccentric and generous’, and he certainly looked to the welfare of his men, building a hospital at Madras and ensuring that the sick were visited regularly. Mount Rainier in the state of Washington was named after him by his friend, George Vancouver.