Sir Charles Adam

1780-1853. He was born on 6 October 1780 at Blairadam House, Kelty, Fifeshire, the second but eldest surviving son of the Whig lawyer, Rt. Hon. William Adam of Blair-Adam Kinross, and of Eleanor, a daughter of Lord Elphinstone, who was a sister of Hon. George Keith Elphinstone, the future Admiral Viscount Keith. His brother, General Sir Frederick Adam, 1781-1853, served in the Peninsula War with the rank of colonel and was later the governor of the Ionian Islands and of Madras.

Enjoying the patronage of his uncle, Captain Hon. George Keith Elphinstone, Adam entered the Navy on 15 December 1790 aboard the Deptford-based yacht Royal Charlotte, Captain Sir Hyde Parker, moving in 1793 to the Robust 74, commanded by his uncle, and serving at the occupation of Toulon from August to December. His next ship was the Glory 98, commanded by another kinsman, Captain John Elphinstone, in which he was present at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794. He returned to his uncle for employment aboard the Barfleur 98 in the Channel for a few months, and then the Monarch 74, joining the expedition which captured the Cape on 16 September 1795, during which campaign he briefly commanded the gun-brig Squib in an acting capacity.

In October 1795 he was appointed an acting lieutenant of the Victorious 74, Captain William Clark, seeing further service in the East Indies. He was present at the bloody action on 8 September 1796 between the Victorious, Arrogant 74, and Rear-Admiral Pierre-César-Charles-Guillaume Sercey’s six frigates, and thereafter he commanded the sloop Swift 16, to which his uncle appointed him in August. On 4 March 1797, the commander-in-chief in the East Indies, Rear-Admiral Peter Rainier, posted him to the frigate Carysfort 32 in an acting capacity, which vessel he retained until 19 August, serving mainly out of Madras.

Sir Charles Adam

Having made his way to St. Helena, Adam returned to England aboard the Polyphemus 64, Captain George Lumsdaine, arriving in the Downs on 29 January 1798, and immediately travelling up to London with dispatches for the Admiralty. At this time, he was described as ‘Captain Adam’; however, the Admiralty deemed his promotions to commander and post captain invalid, although his lieutenant’s commission was confirmed on 8 February, and it was in this rank that he was appointed to the Barfleur 98, Captain James Richard Dacres, serving in the Channel Fleet.

On 16 May 1798, a few days after the Barfleur had entered Plymouth, Adam was officially promoted to the rank of commander with his appointment to the fireship Falcon, although it is unlikely that he ever took her to sea. In June he was appointed to the Albatross 18 at Portsmouth, which vessel sailed with dispatches for the Cape and the East Indies at the beginning of July. Forming part of Commodore John Blankett’s squadron, she despatched to the Red Sea in company with the Centurion 50, Captain John Sprat Rainier, following the French invasion of Egypt. The two vessels were at Mocha in January 1799, and they fought an engagement with a number of French gunboats off Suez on 27 April.

On 12 June 1799, by which time the Albatross was in Indian waters, Adam was posted captain of a crack frigate, the ex-French Sybille 38, in succession to the late Captain Edward Cooke. He continued to serve on the East Indies station, visiting Penang in the spring of 1800 before a brief return to Madras on 21 May. During the summer the Sybille blockaded the Batavia Roads under the orders of Captain Henry Lidgbird Ball of the Daedalus 32, being also in company with the Centurion 50, Captain John Spratt Rainier, and Braave 40, Captain Thomas Alexander, and on 23 August five Dutch armed vessels were captured and twenty-two other vessels destroyed when this force attacked the arsenal at Onrust. After further service in Javanese waters, the squadron was recalled by the governor-general of India to provide naval support during the Mahratta War, and in accordance with this instruction the Sybille arrived at Bombay in May 1801.

Continuing with the Sybille, Adam captured the disabled French frigate Chiffone 36, Captain Pierre Guieysse, after taking his command through dangerous rocks and shoals under the fire of a battery in the Mahé Roads in the Seychelles on 19 August 1801. During this engagement he lost two men killed and one wounded. The prize was carried into the Madras Roads on 22 September, and when details of the capture reached England, one newspaper went so far as to describe it as the equal of any other action in the war to date. During November the Sybille escorted a convoy of four vessels carrying troops through the Bay of Bengal, and on 31 December she took the last known French privateer in Indian waters, the Hirondelle 18, after a chase of three and a half hours off Cape Negrais on the south-west tip of what is now Myanmar.

By April 1802 the Sybille was at Madras, and at the end of the month she reached Trincomale. In October she departed for home in the company of the Victorious 74, Captain Pulteney Malcolm, and the Orpheus 32, Captain Charles Fullerton Elphinstone, and on 13 December the small squadron reached the Cape. By the time that she eventually arrived at Portsmouth on 20 April to be paid off, the Sybille was in dire need of anchors and cables, and she had left the unseaworthy Victorious at Lisbon.

Within weeks of Adam’s return from the East Indies, hostilities with France, which had ended following the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, were renewed, and on 29 May 1803 he was appointed to his prize, the Chiffone, being ordered to join the North Sea station which was under the overall command of his uncle, Admiral Lord Keith. In August his frigate was off the coast of Norway, in November she was in the Shetlands before taking a convoy south to the Nore, and on 8 December, having returned to Scotland, she sailed from the Leith Roads. Sometime later in December, she limped into Cromarty Bay in northern Scotland, having sustained much damage when going aground for two hours on the Norwegian coast.

During February 1804 the Chiffone was docked at Sheerness, but by 22 March she was ready to sail, and two days later she was in the Downs from where she departed to join the blockade of Boulogne. Shortly afterwards, she lost one man killed and two wounded in an insignificant action with a French brig and twenty-five boats off Calais. She was back in the Downs by 15 April, and she then returned to duties in the North Sea where she blockaded a Dutch corvette in Bergen during May and June. At the end of September she sailed out of Leith, and in December she voyaged south to undergo a thorough refit at Sheerness.

The Chiffonne left Sheerness towards the end of January 1805, whereupon Adam received instructions to deliver the Grand Chamberlain of Russia to Gothenburg. His command was back in the Downs by 2 March before going out on a cruise off Le Havre, from where she arrived at Portsmouth on 17 April. Going back out to Le Havre, the Chiffonne was active against the French invasion flotilla, particularly on 10 June, when in company with a number of smaller vessels she drove two corvettes and fifteen gunboats under the batteries at Fécamp following a nine-hour chase. By 11 July she was back at Portsmouth from where she sailed to Weymouth to attend the King on his annual holiday.

At the end of August 1805 Adam was appointed to the newly launched Resistance 38, which frigate arrived in the Downs from the Nore on 22 November and embarked on a short cruise shortly afterwards. On 10 December she sailed with the Leopard 50, Captain Richard Raggett, and a convoy of troop transports for the Weser, but two days later a heavy gale dispersed the ships, and it took several vessels up to a month to make a safe return. Meanwhile, the Resistance took another convoy around to Portsmouth at the end of the month, as she did in early January 1806, where upon her arrival she joined Vice-Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren’s force that was sent in search of two French squadrons that had broken out of Brest. She was present at the capture of the Marengo 74 and Belle Poule 40 by Warren’s squadron on 13 March, and shortly afterwards she cut out a brig laden with iron and steel from the Spanish coast. On 21 May she entered Portsmouth Harbour to be docked, and going up to London, Adam was presented to the King at a levee by his father in June.

On 30 July 1806 the Resistance dropped down to St. Helens with a convoy of two thousand troops destined for the Cape which Adam was instructed to deliver to Plymouth, and after eventually sailing on 8 August, she joined Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Louis’ squadron at the Devonshire port which put out shortly afterwards for Belleisle. Following her return on 4 October, it was announced that the Resistance would sail with dispatches for the West Indies. On 17 November she landed a Spanish nobleman at Cartagena on the Spanish Main, and she arrived at Jamaica eight days later. Despatched to collect treasure from Vera Cruz, she was obliged to anchor in uncharted waters fifteen miles away and temporarily went aground. Eventually departing on 14 January 1807 with an amount reported as four million dollars, she enjoyed a particularly brisk passage to England and arrived at Portsmouth on 26 February, although the treasure was not landed until the middle of March.

At the beginning of April 1807, the Resistance was ordered from Portsmouth to join Admiral Lord Keith’s force in the Downs, and Adam was placed in command of the squadron off Le Havre. His frigate regularly put into Portsmouth from the French coast over the remainder of the year, with her sole success of note being her capture on 27 December of the lugger privateer Aigle 14. On 17 February 1808 she entered Portsmouth Harbour to be docked, and at the beginning of April she resumed her cruising off Le Havre.

Adam’s early career was greatly advanced by the patronage of his uncle, Admiral Lord Keith.

In the middle of May 1808, the Resistance was finally released from her duties off Le Havre when she was placed under orders for the Mediterranean, and she eventually sailed from Cork on 12 July in escort of several troop transports. Seeing further service off Portugal, she escorted transports to Quiberon Bay carrying the second division of Marshal Jean-Andoche Junot’s defeated troops in accordance with the Convention of Cintra. Having entered Falmouth on 6 November, she departed the Cornish port for Spithead a fortnight later before returning to Falmouth on 19 December and then undertaking a short cruise and a visit to the Scilly Isles.

On 2 January 1809 she put out with a convoy for the Mediterranean, but this fleet was unfortunately dispersed by a storm two days later, and the Resistance was forced to return to Falmouth with the loss of her mainyard. In early February the purser was deemed medically unfit and removed from the frigate, and he would later be court-martialled and found guilty of embezzlement. Sailing on 10 February, the Resistance’s boats boats cut out the small French schooner Mouche in the Bay of Biscay sixteen days later. It was also reported that in tandem with the Arethusa 38, Captain Robert Mends, she took another French schooner off San Sebastien, and in the same action she captured four luggers and sunk another two. On 8 March her boats destroyed a schooner and a chasse-maree in the port of Elanchove near Cape Machichaco on the Basque coast, and on 29 May she arrived in Plymouth. The Resistance subsequently sailed for Messina on 23 June with payment for the troops. Seeing further service in the Mediterranean, she gave passage to the French royal family from Port Mahon to Palermo, and she also escorted troops from Cadiz to Cartagena.

In early April 1810, Adam transferred to the Invincible 74 in place of Captain Ross Donnelly who was suffering from a cataract, and continuing to serve in the Mediterranean, he acted as the senior officer on the coast of Catalonia, although it was under the orders of Captain Edward Codrington that he was involved in the landing of troops at Tarragona in May 1811, and at the harrowing evacuation of that city on 28 June. In September the Invincible was put under quarantine at Mahon after departing Cartagena in a sickly state. Whilst reconnoitring Tarragona in his barge not long afterwards, Adam had a lucky escape when a French rifleman fired at him from behind a rock, the bullet flying past his shoulder to hit his coxswain and killing him instantly. In May 1812 he sailed from Cartagena to direct the capture of Almeria, in which mission he supervised the blowing up of the castle of San Elmo, and during November he interceded with the Dey of Algiers to secure the release of twenty-five Spanish soldiers and fifty-two French prisoners who had been captured on a Spanish polacre. Thereafter, the Invincible was at Gibraltar.

In April 1813 Adam assisted the Spanish royalist General Baron de Eroles in an attack upon the French at Ampolla and Perello near the mouth of the Ebro, in which operation he took the opportunity to capture two privateers which had been creating havoc off the river mouth. In June he led a squadron of smaller vessels which assisted the army in the five-day siege of Fort St. Philippe in the near impassable Col de Balageur near Tortosa, on which occasion he arranged for guns to be dragged up and manned to bombard the fort into submission. His service in the Mediterranean, which had lasted for the best part of five and a half years, came to an end when the Invincible arrived at Portsmouth at the turn of the year, and she went around to Plymouth to be paid off in January 1814.

In April 1814 Adam visited Bath, but news of Napoleon’s return to France saw the curtailment of his brief association with the civilian world, and he returned to duty in May with his appointment to the Impregnable 98. The Battle of Waterloo in June re-established the peace, but remaining with the Impregnable, he was accorded the honour of serving as the flag-captain to the Duke of Clarence, attendant on the Czar and King of Prussia, during the visit of the allied heads of state to England in the July.

For the next ten years, Adam spent a great deal of time in his native Fifeshire, where he threw himself into the community and attended horse racing meetings. Unlike many officers he still found employment in the Navy however, for his patronage allowed him the privilege to be placed in command of one of the royal yachts, the Royal Sovereign, to which he was appointed in December 1814. One of his first duties was to carry King Louis XVIII of France from Dover to Calais on 23 December, in August 1815 the yacht was put at the disposal of Princess Charlotte at Weymouth, and Adam retained the nominal command of this vessel until February 1816.

In August 1819 he lost an election to Parliament for the County of Kinross by ten votes to eight, but he was back in London during May 1821 to attend a levee with King George IV, and he returned to the command of the Royal Sovereign yacht in July. She sailed as an escort vessel in the squadron which departed Spithead on 1 August with the King on the occasion of his visit to Dublin, and whilst in the Irish capital, Adam with other senior officers inspected the work being undertaken in the Royal Harbour. In July 1822 he was commanding the Royal Sovereign when she arrived off Dover to embark the Prince and Princess of Denmark for Calais, and at the end of the month the yacht joined a squadron at the Nore which was to escort the King on his visit to Leith. Adam was at another levee in August 1822, and in June 1823 the Royal Sovereign sailed from Deptford to Portsmouth to join a squadron attending the monarch. Meanwhile, he still found time to attend social events in Scotland.

Following his promotion to flag rank on 27 May 1825, at which time he gave up the command of the Royal Sovereign, Adam enjoyed a quiet life in Scotland with his young family, although on 28 September 1830 he was in Brighton to join a small party which dined with the new monarch, King William IV, and Queen Adelaide.

The yacht, Royal Sovereign

Adam returned to a form of active employment in May 1831 when he was elected unopposed to the House of Commons in favour of ‘Reform’ for his family seat, Kinross, and for the enlarged Clackmannan and Kinross constituency in December of the following year. From 1 November until 23 December 1834 he served as the first sea lord in the Duke of Wellington’s short-lived second administration, albeit a Tory one, and again from April 1835 to August 1841 in Viscount Melbourne’s Whig administration under the first lord of the Admiralty, his brother-in-law, Lord Minto. These appointments were regarded by some as nothing short of sheer nepotism on behalf of the Minto family, with accusations that Adam had done nothing to warrant his position. Nevertheless, he proved himself to be an active participator in the affairs of the Navy in particular, and the nation in general. As part of his role, he toured the Thames dockyards in October 1835, and whilst at the Admiralty he concurred with Rear-Admiral Sir William Parker and Commodore Sir Edward Troubridge in their refusal to entertain the fitting of screws to naval vessels.

Adam was created a K.C.B. on 10 January 1835, and he was advanced to the rank of vice-admiral on 10 January 1837. In July 1838 he embarked aboard the Admiralty steam yacht Firebrand at Woolwich to tour Portsmouth Dockyard and other naval establishments, one of many such visits, and he was also a frequent attendee at Court and at social events with Lord Minto. Further criticism of the extent of his patronage came in October 1839 when his cousin, Admiral Hon. Charles Elphinstone Fleeming, was awarded the governorship of Greenwich Hospital, but public sympathy aligned behind him following the loss of one of his sons, a sixteen-year-old midshipman, when the sloop Fairy foundered with all hands in the North Sea on 13 November 1840.

On 30 August 1841, together with his wife, son, daughter, and a niece, he set out on the Southampton Railway to raise his flag at Portsmouth aboard the Pique 36, Captain Richard Augustus Yates, upon his appointment as the commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands and North America in succession to the late Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Harvey. Sailing from Portsmouth on 3 September, he transferred his flag upon arrival at Halifax to the Winchester 50, Captain John Parker, whilst awaiting the arrival of his intended flagship, the Illustrious 72, Captain John Erskine, which had been fitting out at Portsmouth.

By the beginning of 1842 he was aboard the Illustrious at Bermuda, from where she sailed for Barbados and Jamaica on 13 February. During April, Adam arrived at Honduras with a small squadron including a steamer, in May he visited Havana, and having also visited Belize and Cartagena, he returned to Bermuda. On 23 July the Illustrious departed for Halifax, where she appears to have remained for the rest of the year.

At the turn of 1843, Adam had two dozen ships under his command, the majority being of a small rating. By February he was at Barbados aboard the Illustrious, and on the 21st of that month he sailed from St. Thomas for Jamaica to conduct a series of court martials. On 1 May he arrived back at Bermuda, and on 7 June he sailed for Halifax, where he appears to have remained until sailing with his squadron for the Caribbean on 26 November.

In March 1844 he instituted a blockade of the port of San Juan de Nicaragua, which remained in place until the late autumn. During the spring, the Illustrious was once more at Bermuda where a fever killed half a dozen of her men, and when she lost her mainyard in a squall she was required to return to Halifax for repairs, arriving on 16 May. From Nova Scotia Adam dispatched the Illustrious to Cuba to demand an explanation for the imprisonment of several British subjects and the expulsion of free coloured British nationals. Meanwhile, raising his flag aboard the receiving ship Pyramus, he remained at Halifax to preside over the Court of Admiralty which investigated the murder of the officers and some crew of the barque Saladin, which had gone aground on the coast of Nova Scotia on 21 May. Six seamen were charged not only with the killings but also with piracy, the motive for their mutiny having been the large amount of silver and copper which she had been carrying from Valparaiso, and at the conclusion of the trial, four men were found guilty and hung on 30 July.

By 3 August 1844 Adam had re-hoisted his flag aboard the Illustrious at Halifax, and although his term of office had expired, he continued to command the station in the absence of a replacement. On 3 November he sailed from Nova Scotia for Bermuda to spend the winter with his family. Engaging in a farewell tour of the islands in 1845, the Illustrious arrived at Antigua on 8 January, and Adam was in Bridgetown, Barbados on 3 February when a dreadful fire swept through the town, leaving many people homeless despite his landing of all of his seamen and fire-engines to combat the blaze. After a brief return to Bermuda, Adam arrived at Plymouth aboard the Illustrious on 27 May.

He was hardly back on dry land than he was badly injured when thrown from his horse in Kinross, but he returned to public duty once he had recovered, spending further time at the Admiralty as the first sea lord from July 1846 in Lord Russell’s Whig administration, and resuming his visits to the various dockyards, attending Court, and hobnobbing with the Mintos. He was appointed the governor of Greenwich Hospital in July 1847, at which point he left his role at the Admiralty, and continuing to live in London, he was advanced to the rank of admiral on 8 January 1848.

Sir Charles Adam died at Greenwich on 16 September 1853, a month after the sudden death of his brother, General Sir Francis Adam. He was buried in Greenwich Hospital Cemetery five days later following a very simple family service whose only attendee of note was his old colleague from the Admiralty, Admiral Sir William Parker.

On 4 September 1822 at Minto House, Edinburgh, he married Elizabeth Brydone, the sister of the Countess of Minto, and they had issue a daughter and two sons, the elder of whom was the politician and colonial administrator, William Patrick Adam. The younger son, Charles, died as a 16-year-old midshipman when the sloop Fairy was lost with all hands in the North Sea on 13 November 1840. Adam’s London address was 14 Berkeley Square. During the 1820’s he was living at Ancrum House in the Scottish borders, and in the 1830’s he had a residence in East Sheen.

Adam was renowned for his gallantry, activity, and ability, and he was seen as an officer who co-operated exceptionally well with the army in combined coastal operations. He was a very loyal friend of Admiral Sir James Alexander Gordon with whom he worked at Greenwich in his later years, and who succeeded him as governor.

Through their ownership of the Nismes Estate and enslaved peoples in British Guiana, Adam and his family received compensation in 1835 following the Abolition of Slavery a year earlier.