Sir Charles Hamilton

1767-1849. Born on 25 May 1767 of Scottish descent, he was the elder of the two sons of Captain Sir John Hamilton and of his wife, Cassandra Agnes Chamberlayne, the sister of Captain Charles Chamberlayne. His younger brother was Admiral Sir Edward Hamilton, and he was the nephew of the Earl of Abercorn.

Hamilton was entered to the service in the winter of 1776 on the books of the Hector 74, commanded by his father, then spent two years at the Royal Naval Academy before joining the Hector to serve at Jamaica in 1779. On 20 June 1780 this ship was present in Captain Hon. William Cornwallis’ action with the French off Bermuda, and Hamilton saw further service on the Jamaican station on various vessels to include the Pelican 24, Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, and from 1781 the Lowestoft 32, Captain Thomas Haynes, the Ramillies 74, Captain John Cowling, and the Hinchingbroke 20, Captain John Fish.

On 20 October 1781, at the tender age of fourteen, he was commissioned lieutenant of the sloop Tobago 16, Commander Mark Robinson, transferring in February 1782 to the Badger 14, Captain Safry Hills, and then returning to England aboard the Flora 36, Captain Samuel Marshall in September. He next rejoined his father aboard the Grafton 74, which was dismasted when going out to the East Indies in January 1783 and forced to return home to be paid off in April.

Hamilton succeeded to his father’s baronetcy on 24 January 1784, and in 1787 he returned to the Leeward Islands aboard the Jupiter 50, Commodore William Parker. On 16 November 1789 he became the commander of the sloop Scorpion 16 at Antigua on the promotion of Captain Paget Bayly, an advancement that was confirmed by the Admiralty on 30 June 1790 after his command had arrived home at the Nore three weeks earlier in company with the Jupiter. In July he kissed the King’s hand on being promoted, and on 22 November 1790, shortly after joining the Grand Fleet at Spithead towards the end of the Spanish Armament, he was posted captain along with a host of other officers.

Sir Charles Hamilton

In March 1791 he made the newspapers when acting as a second to a Mr Bently in a duel on Wimbledon Common which was fought over words that had been exchanged at the billiard table the day before – happily both parties missed and Hamilton and his fellow second were able to step in and confirm that honour had been satisfied.

Following the commencement of the French Revolutionary War Hamilton recommissioned the frigate Dido 28 in April 1793, serving in the North Sea and off Norway. During August his command entered the Elsinore Roads after hitting a rock off the Norwegian coast whilst in pursuit of a troublesome privateer, the True Patriot, which had attempted to escape capture by pushing up a creek, but had been taken by the Dido’s boats with her crew escaping ashore. The Dido’s prize was sent into Stavanger.

In December the Dido sailed from St. Helens with the Inconstant 36, Captain Augustus Montgomery, in escort of the Mediterranean convoy. She served at the sieges of Bastia, Calvi and San Fiorenzo during the Corsican campaign from February 1794, with Hamilton also having charge of a frigate squadron off the island. During the chase of the Toulon fleet into the Golfe Jouan on 12 June the Dido was the only British vessel to get within range of the enemy, being fired on in return by the French ships and their forts.

Hamilton next commanded the newly-captured frigate San Fiorenzo 36 from July 1794, in which he returned to Plymouth in November with Commodore Hon. John Rodney’s convoy, prior to going around to Chatham for his ship to enter dock.

In April 1795 he commissioned the new Melpomene 38 at Chatham, taking on her ordnance at Blackstakes in early June and being despatched to collect a King’s Messenger with diplomatic information from Cuxhaven in August. His command then took a convoy around to Portsmouth from the Downs, and during September attended the Royal Family on their annual holiday at Weymouth before re-entering Portsmouth in the early part of October. She was next sent out on a cruise with several other vessels under the orders of Captain Sir Harry Burrard Neale, and this squadron later appeared off Plymouth where they were under the necessity of entering the Sound for protection from heavy weather before resuming their cruise.

During the spring of 1796 the Melpomene was at Spithead, and she spent time thereafter cruising in the Channel where she captured the privateer Revanche 18 off Brest on 11 July. In August she formed part of Vice-Admiral John Colpoys’ division of the Channel Fleet, and after this force had made a rendezvous with the homecoming West India convoy the Melpomene was detached in escort of the Bristol and Liverpool-bound ships. On 6 September she put out of Plymouth to join Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Gardner’s squadron in the Channel, and she was back at Portsmouth in October before going out on another cruise in November. In December she was in the Downs where she remained until the last week of January 1797 before sailing for Portsmouth to enter dock and refit.

In March 1797 the Melpomene put out of Portsmouth with the West India convoy, but in the following month was with the fleet at Spithead when the mutiny broke out on 16 April. After returning to duty she captured the Fecamp privateer lugger Espiêgle off the Isle of Wight on 15 May, and in June she was with the fleet off Plymouth, which port she briefly put into. Following another cruise she was in Portsmouth during July before going around to Weymouth to once more attend the Royal Family on their summer holiday.

On 20 February 1798 Hamilton’s frigate captured the Lorient privateer Triton 16 in the Bay of Biscay, and on 3 August her boats, with those of the Childers 14, Commander James O’Bryen, the whole of which force was under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Shortland, cut out the Aventurier 12 from Corréjou. Two months later the Melpomene was part of a small squadron which was unsuccessful in its pursuit of the French Commodore Daniel Savary’s force, which itself had been seeking to reinforce the invasion of Ireland in ignorance of the French defeat at the Battle of Tory Island on 12 October. A further prize for the Melpomene was the Bordeaux privateer Tigre 18, after what was described as a smart chase on 17 November.

On 18 February 1799 the Melpomene captured the Lorient privateer Zélé 18 off the Saints, and remaining in that vicinity during March she blocked up some fifty provision vessels that were destined for the Brest fleet. She then entered Plymouth for a refit in June. From August Hamilton served on the Dutch coast with Vice-Admiral Sir Andrew Mitchell’s invasion force, attending to the safe conveyance of eighty transports, and blockading Amsterdam for seven weeks by manning shallow drafted schuyts and boats with his crew. The Melpomene was later with the fleet in November when it returned to Yarmouth.

Having been ordered to hoist a commodore’s broad pennant, Hamilton sailed from Portsmouth with the East India and Africa trade on 13 February 1800, and he was senior officer off Africa where he accomplished the capture in April of the strategic island of Gorée in company with the Ruby 64, Captain Solomon Ferris, and Magnanime 44, Captain William Taylor. The Melpomene subsequently returned to Portsmouth on 5 July having taken the letter-of-marque Auguste 10 off the French coast on 17 June after a thirty-five hour chase, which vessel had been bound from Bordeaux to Guadeloupe with a valuable cargo.

In September 1800 the Melpomene came out of dock at Portsmouth, and towards the end of the year she returned to Africa. Sadly her posting was marred by the particularly high level of casualties incurred in an attempt to cut out a French brig-corvette and schooner in the Senegal River on 3 January 1801, resulting in eleven men being killed and eighteen wounded. Thereafter she served in the Leeward Islands, and in the same year Hamilton assumed the duties of naval commissioner at Antigua. The Melpomene, whose crew was decimated by disease in the West Indies, returned to Portsmouth from Antigua with Hamilton in August 1802, and at the end of the month the frigate went around to Sheerness to be paid off.

In November 1803 Hamilton was ordered to commission the new Illustrious 74 at Woolwich, going around to the Downs from the Nore in February 1804 where he remained under the orders of Admiral Lord Keith through the spring, occasionally putting out on a cruise or parading off Boulogne. During April he was instructed to attend Parliament by Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent to support the government, but once William Pitt came back into power weeks later he too was able to count on Hamilton’s support. In June the Illustrious joined the Channel fleet, and by July was with the squadron off Ferrol commanded by Rear-Admiral Hon. Alexander Cochrane. At the end of October she arrived at Plymouth from the Spanish coast and Hamilton immediately set off for London where he had a long interview with the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Melville. After returning to Ferrol, he again came into Plymouth in February 1805 prior to his ship rejoining the Channel Fleet.

From July 1805 Hamilton served in the Sea Fencibles in command of the Essex coast, being based at Harwich. In June 1806 he invoked a prosecution against George Brisac, an officer who had controversially been convicted of fraud when captain of the Iris 32 in 1802, and had been dismissed the navy and ordered to stand in the pillory, although that element of the sentence had been remitted by the King upon application from the Earl of St. Vincent. Hamilton’s prosecution, that of a provocation to fight a duel, arose through Hamilton’s proctor questioning Brisac’s character in a court of appeal that was attempting to resolve a dispute over prize money between Hamilton and Captain Mark Robinson, by whom Brisac had been asked to provide a professional opinion. Assuming that Hamilton had instructed his proctor to pose the question, Brisac wrote to Hamilton implying a challenge to meet in court or on the duelling ground. After a summing up by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Ellenborough, and a mere twenty minute consultation, the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty on Brisac.

Returning to active duty, Hamilton was appointed to the Téméraire 98 in March 1807, which ship he commissioned at Portsmouth in early April. She was still at Portsmouth in August and went out in the following month, her crew having been completed with drafts from the Prince George 98. In mid-October she sailed to join the Channel Fleet off Brest before serving in Vice-Admiral Sir John Duckworth’s thirteen thousand mile pursuit of an imaginary French fleet during the emergency that resulted from Vice-Admiral Honoré Ganteaume’s breakout from Toulon in February 1808. At the end of April Duckworth’s squadron returned to Plymouth where the Téméraire underwent a refit in the Hamoaze. Hamilton thereafter commanded her with the Channel fleet under Admiral Lord Gambier before passing on the temporary command to Captain Edward Sneyd Clay in February 1809.

On 12 April 1809, whilst still on leave to attend parliament, Hamilton was arrested at his residence in Devonshire Square, London by an illiterate sheriff’s officer who had been charged with taking into custody a bankrupt by the name of Sir John Charles Hamilton. When it was confirmed that force would be used against him should he resist Hamilton went quietly to have his identity confirmed. Upon the sheriff’s officer later being brought before the bar of the House of Commons to answer for his behaviour he was ordered to be confined in Newgate Gaol.

Hamilton was a parliamentarian, and he used this platform to criticise Captain Lord Cochrane, somewhat unfairly, following the Battle of the Basque Roads in 1809.

In October 1809 Hamilton was appointed a colonel of marines, and he remained on the beach whilst Captain Clay continued to command the Téméraire in the Baltic for the best part of the year. He next had the Tonnant 80 from November, but in December he again left his command to attend Parliament where he was a vociferous opponent of Captain Lord Cochrane during the inflammatory aftermath of the Battle of the Basque Roads, which had taken place on 11 April 1809; indeed his claim that more should have been achieved by Cochrane during the engagement was a prejudiced and ridiculous view to say the least. Hamilton did have the command of the Tonnant when she sailed out of Plymouth on Christmas Eve after a complete refit, but he then handed over the acting captaincy to Captain Hassard Stackpole in January, and that officer retained it until Hamilton was raised to flag rank on 31 July 1810.

Immediately upon being promoted rear-admiral, Hamilton raised his flag aboard the frigate Thisbe 36, Commander William Rogers, to assume the role of commander-in-chief in the Thames at Woolwich, a position he retained until his promotion to vice-admiral on 4 June 1814.

In April 1818 he was appointed the commander-in-chief and governor of Newfoundland, taking passage in June aboard the Ister 36, Captain Thomas Forrest, and shifting his flag on arrival into the Sir Francis Drake 38, Captain John Bowker. On 19 July 1819 a fire engulfed St. Johns which destroyed over one hundred houses, and in August Hamilton took passage aboard the Carnation 16, Captain Henry Shiffner, for Trepassey on the south-eastern peninsula of Avalon. He then appears to have wintered in Newfoundland with his flag aboard the Sir Francis Drake, this vessel having a reduced complement under the command of Lieutenant Octavius Venables Vernon whilst Captain Bowker and most of her crew returned home. Hamilton eventually left his position as governor on 5 July 1824.

He served as a justice of the peace in Sussex during the later 1820’s whilst also attending society events, particularly those of a military nature, and also enjoying the occasional audience with the King. He became an admiral on 22 July 1830, attended a levee with the monarch in the same month, and was created a K.C.B. on 29 January 1833

Sir Charles Hamilton died at his estate of Iping near Midhurst on 14 September 1849.

He married Henrietta Drummond, the daughter of a leading banker from Stanmore, Middlesex, by special licence on 19 April 1803 at Brompton Chapel and had issue one son, Charles James, who joined the Scotch Fusilier Guards. Having briefly served as M.P. for St. Germans in 1790 he was the M.P. for Dungannon from November 1801 until 1802 and again from June 1803-07, and M.P. for Honiton from 1807-12. He had a residence at Devonshire Place in 1810, and later homes at Foley Place, London and The Mount near Uxbridge.