Sir Charles Douglas

@1727- 1789. He was descended from William Douglas of Lochleven, the 6th Earl Morton.

He passed his examination for lieutenant in February 1747 but did not achieve this rank until 4 December 1753. Promotion to commander followed on 24 February 1759 when he was given the armed vessel Boscawen, and he subsequently served in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and at the reduction of Quebec in 1759.

He was posted captain with seniority from 13 March 1761, having taken command of the Unicorn 28 off Brest in succession to the fallen Captain Joseph Hunt, and assisted the Tweed 32, Captain William Paston, in the capture of the privateer Maréchal de Broglie on 7 March. Being superseded shortly afterwards by Captain Charles Fielding, he recommissioned the Siren 20 later that month for service in the Downs, sharing in the capture of the privateer Ernestine 10 off Dunkirk on 6 November 1761. He was later employed on the Newfoundland station after sailing there in the following April, and retained his command until the autumn. He next assumed command of the Tweed 32, going out once more to Newfoundland in April 1763 and supervising Lieutenant James Cook’s survey of the islands of St. Peter and Miquelon, prior to them being handed back to the French. He left this vessel at the end of the year.

From 1766-70 he commanded the Emerald 32, initially seeing duty in the Channel and off the Scottish islands, and in 1769 undertook a mission to the North Cape to view the transit of Venus, although poor weather meant he was unable to complete his observations. In January 1771 he commissioned the new St Albans 64 as a Portsmouth guardship, retaining her for the usual three years.

In the autumn of 1775 he was appointed to commission the new Isis 50. Sent to relieve Quebec which was under blockade by the America rebels, he was prevented by ice in the St. Lawrence from doing so, but having returned to England he tried again in the spring of 1776, relieving Quebec on the 6 May and remaining on the station until the autumn as commodore in command of a small squadron. During this period he superintended the creation of a naval force that could be transported across land, and the ships he built fought the battle of Lake Champlain with the Americans over 11 and 12 October, although he was not present. After returning to England he was created a baronet on 23 January 1777in recognition of his services

Sir Charles Douglas

Sir Charles Douglas

A couple of months later he commissioned the new Stirling Castle 64, and after participating at the Battle of Ushant on the 27 July 1778 and giving evidence advantageous to Admiral Hon. Augustus Keppel at his court martial he was moved in the autumn to the Duke 98, serving in the Channel in succession to the discarded Captain William Brereton. Commanding this vessel he enhanced his schemes for improving the gunnery of the man of war, and was present in the Channel Fleet retreat of August 1779, the campaign of June to December 1780, the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781, and the campaign of June to November 1781.

He was subsequently appointed captain of the fleet to the commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands station, Admiral Sir George Rodney, serving aboard the Formidable 90 from early 1782, and fighting at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April 1782 where some credited him with the revolutionary decision to break the French line. Indeed it was reported that he positively insisted upon Rodney doing so but this was doubtful, as Douglas was never considered as possessing the personality to argue against the stronger character of his single-minded, arrogant and overbearing commander-in-chief. Conversely, the equally forthright second-in-command, Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, deplored Douglas’s strange decision to order the fleet to shorten sail on the night of the 10-11 April, and clearly doubted his abilities. Following Rodney’s recall in the summer of 1782 Douglas remained as captain of the fleet to Admiral Hugh Pigot until the peace of 1783.

Later that year he was appointed commander-in-chief at Halifax, sailing in October 1783 with his flag in the Assistance 50, Captain William Bentinck, although his first winter was spent in the Leeward Islands. This proved to be a most difficult appointment, and after falling out with the local officials and even managing to upset the Admiralty he failed to see out his full three year tenure, being recalled in February 1785 and returning home aboard the Hermione 32, Captain John Stone.

He was promoted rear-admiral in due course on 24 September 1787, and in January 1789 he was re-appointed commander-in-chief in North America. Before departing to take up his new position however he died of an apoplectic fit in a public room in Edinburgh on 10 March.

Douglas was married twice and had several children, one of whom, Sir Howard, became a general, and another, Sir William Henry, became a vice-admiral. His daughter Lydia, married the Reverend Richard Bingham, Canon of Chichester, and had sons in the service.

Douglas brought a scientific mind to gunnery improvements, fitted flintlocks to all carriage guns aboard the Duke, and was renowned and respected as an innovative tactician. A supporter of the Keppel faction in the Navy, he boasted a classical education that he utilised to the utmost, particularly with analogies. He remained steadfastly loyal to Lord Rodney despite many differences of opinion, and was particularly modest regarding his own part in the great battle of the Saintes. He is said to have had a strong temper if aroused and had poor man-management skills.The splenetic Viscount Hood despised him however, stating that amongst other shortcomings Douglas was a ‘yes man’ who was weak and irresolute, unqualified for the position of captain of the fleet, short of memory and understanding, and no more fit for his station than Hood was to be an archbishop.