SirJames Nicoll Morris
1763-1830. He was the only issue of Captain John Morris, who was mortally wounded whilst commanding Commodore Sir Peter Parker’s flagship, the Bristol 50, at the unsuccessful attack on Charleston on 28 June 1776.
Morris was entered to the service at an early age, being borne from January 1772 on the books of the sloop Otter 14, commanded by his father, and then transferring to the Portsmouth guardship Resolution 74, Captain John Hollwall, until July 1775.
After a couple of years ashore he was taken aboard the Prince of Wales 74, Captain Benjamin Hill, the flagship of his father’s patron, Rear-Admiral Hon. Samuel Barrington, going out to the Leeward Islands in May 1778. Whilst serving aboard the Ariadne 20, Captain Thomas Pringle, he was present at the Battles of St. Lucia on 15 December 1778 and Grenada on 6 July 1779, and he returned to England on board that vessel with Barrington shortly afterwards, arriving in early September.
In November 1779 he joined the sloop Fortune 10, Commander Lewis Robertson, which was fitting out for the West Indies, but in the event he did not sail there, and after a short spell aboard the Amphitite 24, Captain Thomas Gaborian, he joined the Barfleur 90, Captain Hill, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Barrington in the Channel during January 1780.
Following his promotion to lieutenant on 14 September 1780, Morris joined the Queen 90, Captain Alexander Innes, and then the Namur 98, Captain Herbert Sawyer, being present in Channel fleet operations, including the Relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781. After the Namur had gone out to the Leeward Islands at the beginning of 1782 under Captain Robert Fanshawe he was present at the Battle of the Saintes on 12 April, and he remained with her in North America and the West Indies until paid off in June 1783.
Following three years unemployment he joined the Leander 50, Captain Sir James Barclay, in August 1786, which vessel flew the broad pennant of Commodore Herbert Sawyer at Halifax, and saw further service in the Dutch Armament during the autumn of 1787 aboard the Orion 74, Captain Sir Hyde Parker. He was afterwards employed aboard the Medway and Portsmouth guardship Arrogant 74, Captain John Harvey, and during the Spanish Armament in 1790 he was appointed to the Royal George 100, Captain Thomas Pringle, followed by the Barfleur 98, again with Admiral Barrington.
Barrington’s continuing patronage earned Morris promotion to the rank of commander on 21 September 1790, and he was appointed for the purposes of rank only to the Fairy 14. In January 1791 he joined the Flirt 14 at Portsmouth, operating for the rest of the year out of that port and being despatched on the impress service in April 1791 during the Russian armament. Later that month he sent two small captured smuggling luggers into Portsmouth, and whilst undertaking further impress duties in the summer he was also able to detain other smuggling vessels. In October the Flirt entered port to be paid off, only to be recommissioned again at Portsmouth and despatched on further cruises in the preventative service. Tragically, towards the end of that month, a midshipman and three seamen from the Flirt were drowned when their boat overset in a storm near Fort Monckton whilst making for Portsmouth from Lymington Creek.
At the end of November 1791 the Flirt was fitted out and despatched to the West Indies, and she saw service at Jamaica and later the Bahamas and in the Leeward Islands before returning to Jamaica. In September 1792 she arrived at Cap François to find the slaves on Saint-Domingue in open rebellion, and after returning to Spithead on 9 November following a passage of six weeks from the French island Morris left the command.
With the commencement of the French Revolutionary War imminent he commissioned the fireship Pluto 14 at Portsmouth in January 1793, going out on a cruise in February and entering Plymouth Dock at the end of March. He then had another brief cruise out of Portsmouth before sailing for Newfoundland in May with a convoy in the company of the Fox 32, Captain Thomas Drury. On 17 July the Pluto departed St. John’s on a cruise with the Boston 32, Captain George Courtenay, and after a forty-five minute engagement eight days later captured the French privateer Lutine 16, bound from Martinique to Le Havre. Morris was subsequently posted captain on 7 October to succeed Captain Courtenay aboard the thirty year-old frigate Boston after that officer had lost his life in the inconclusive engagement with the French frigate Embuscade on 31 July. Thereafter the Boston remained on the American coast, with correspondence from New York indicating that she was the only British man-of-war in those waters.
Sailing for Lisbon from Newfoundland at the end of 1793, on 21 January 1794 the officers and crew of the Boston joined the unsuccessful attempt to extinguish a fire aboard the packet Princess Augusta in the Tagus. She then returned to Portsmouth in February where it was reported that she had been ordered round to Sheerness to be paid off and repaired, however she was back at Portsmouth by the end of March and shortly afterwards sailed with a large convoy for Newfoundland, where she spent the summer. At the end of 1794 the Boston arrived at Cadiz with a number of vessels from Newfoundland in the company of the sloop Bonetta 14, Commander Charles Wemyss, and by January 1795 she was once more at Lisbon.
In May 1795 the Boston departed Portsmouth with the Newfoundland convoy in the company of the Active 32, Captain Thomas Wolley, and after seeing those ships out into the safety of the Atlantic she was off Pill, Bristol in readiness to escort a number of transports to Jersey when elements of the Loyal Irish Fencibles mutinied on 17 July and refused to sail. A troop of dragoons was despatched to restore order, and after a skirmish the entire regiment was disarmed and made prisoner. During October the Boston escorted twenty-five troop transports from Hamburg to Ireland in the company of the Daedalus 32, Captain George Countess.
In February 1796 the Boston left St. Helens for Portugal, and she saw further service over the following year off the coast of Spain. Whilst cruising off Cape Finisterre she captured the privateers Enfant de la Patrie 16 from Bordeaux on 16 April 1797 and Hardi 8 on 30 July, and later the Principe de la Paz off Vigo on 4 June for the loss of a midshipman killed, and the San Bernardo 12 on 16 June.
In the late summer of 1797 Morris transferred to the Lively 32 in succession to Captain Benjamin Hallowell, being attached to the Mediterranean Fleet. Unfortunately, having been sent by Rear-Admiral Sir John Orde in the company of the Seahorse 38, Captain Edward James Foote, in chase of two Spanish frigates that were known to have slipped their cables in poor weather, the Lively grounded in the haze off Rota Point near Cadiz on the night of 12 April 1798. She was set alight the next morning under Spanish fire and blew up, having lost one man killed. Morris returned home in May aboard the packet Prince Adolphus with the news of his frigate’s loss.
In July 1799, following a year on the beach, he was appointed to the eighteen-pounder frigate Phaeton 38, in which he left Portsmouth with Lord Elgin and his suite for Constantinople at the beginning of September, reaching Naples in early November and joining a splendid procession to celebrate that ambassador’s arrival in Turkey on 23 November. Returning to the Mediterranean fleet, he served in the campaign which resulted in the capture of Genoa on 4 June 1800, earning praise from the Austrians for assisting their army with assaults on the French as they retreated at Loano and Alassio, and seizing twenty corn vessels and an arms depot. On the night of 28 October the Phaeton’s boats under the command of the first lieutenant, Francis Beaufort, cut out a large polacre, the St. Josef 14, under the noses of a French privateer and battery at Fuengirola near Malaga, and this ship was bought into the navy as the Calpe.
For the greater part of 1801 the Phaeton cruised out of the Tagus, and further success came when her boats in company with those of the Naiad 38, Captain William Henry Ricketts, attacked two Spanish packets in the port of Marin near Pontevedra on 16 May, the Reposo being captured and the Alcudia destroyed. She eventually returned to Plymouth from Gibraltar after a nine day passage in January 1802 to deliver Admiral Lord Keith’s dispatches from Malta, and she sailed through the Downs in early February to head up the Thames to be paid off in March.
After a brief spell in command of the Blackwater Sea Fencibles following the renewal of hostilities in 1803 Morris was appointed to the Leopard 50 at Chatham in September, going down the Thames at the end of October to take on stores and ordnance. Upon reaching the Downs he raised a broad pennant as the commodore of a force that was to be employed in an attack on Boulogne, but thereafter spent much of the winter sheltering off Dungeness or Deal. In February 1804 the Leopard sailed for Boulogne where she remained with eight or so smaller vessels in company, and with the squadron engaged in the harassment of the French invasion flotilla.
Towards the end of April 1804 he was replaced in command of the squadron off Boulogne by the recently promoted Rear-Admiral Thomas Louis and was appointed to the Colossus 74, which under his stewardship soon became one of the most highly efficient sail of the line in the Navy. Her initial service was with the Inshore Squadron off Brest where she briefly flew the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, and she was with that officer when his force chased a French squadron back into Brest in July. A refit in Plymouth followed, and in November the Colossus sailed with Graves’ squadron to reinforce the blockade of Corunna and Ferrol.
The Colossus was with Graves’ squadron when the Rochefort squadron escaped its blockade in appalling weather on 11 January 1805 at the commencement of what would become the Trafalgar campaign. Shortly afterwards she had to cut her cable off the Ile de Rhé when at risk of driving ashore, and she was able to rejoin Graves on 23 January. The squadron then sailed to reinforce the Channel Fleet off Ushant, and the Colossus was with the fleet when it anchored in Torbay on 1 March before returning to Brest in order to keep the French in port. On 17 May the Colossus entered Plymouth to join Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood’s newly formed squadron which five days later sailed to join the Mediterranean Fleet under Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. By 3 July she was off Cadiz, and in early September was sent to Gibraltar to water and obtain supplies for the fleet.
At the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 the Colossus was the sixth vessel in line behind Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood’s Royal Sovereign 100, and coming into the action she forced the Swiftsure 74 to bear up with her opening broadsides and then devastated the French Argonaute 74 in ten minutes after the two vessels had become interlocked. She next took the fight to both the Spanish Bahama 74 and the Swiftsure with the result that both surrendered, the latter following an emphatic broadside from the Orion 74, Captain Edward Codrington. The prominent part the Colossus played in the battle was illustrated by the fact that she suffered the most casualties in the fleet, with forty men killed and sixty wounded. One of the latter was Morris himself, who received a severe knee injury but continued in command with a tourniquet that he had applied to his leg until being carried below at the end of the engagement. Symbolically, his ship’s aggression was exemplified by a game-cock which escaped the hen-coop when it was smashed to pieces, and which perched near Morris throughout the action, screaming a presumed defiance at the enemy.
Following the battle the Colossus was taken in tow by the Agamemnon 64, Captain Sir Edward Berry, and she eventually reached Gibraltar where Morris was hospitalised. At the end of November she returned to Portsmouth after a thirteen day voyage from Gibraltar, and she later underwent a refit from April to June 1806. After sailing out of Portsmouth in August the Colossus joined Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent’s Channel Fleet in the Tagus, and by January 1807 was back at Plymouth. In the spring she left to join Rear-Admiral Hon. Michael de Courcy’s squadron off Cape Finisterre, in June she returned to Plymouth, by July she was serving under the orders of Rear-Admiral Sir James Saumarez off Ushant, and from August she was with the bulk of the Channel Fleet under Admiral Lord Gardner.
In January 1808 the Colossus joined Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan’s Rochefort squadron which went into the Mediterranean to join Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood’s fleet following the breakout from Rochefort of Rear-Admiral Allemand’s six sail of the line on 7 February. Thereafter she remained with Strachan’s squadron in the Mediterranean, but in September Morris returned to England aboard the Lavinia 44, Captain John Hancock, with Captain Thomas Alexander being appointed acting-captain in his stead.
After a period ashore to recover his health Morris joined the Formidable 98 in April 1810, being ordered around to the Downs and serving in the Baltic during the summer before arriving back at Portsmouth on 26 October. In the interim, on 31 July, he had been nominated a colonel of marines. In March 1811 the Formidable sailed from Plymouth to Portsmouth, and in April from Portsmouth to Chatham to be paid off.
Morris was promoted rear-admiral on 1 August 1811, and in April 1812 sailed from Portsmouth with a strong squadron as the third in command in the Baltic at the request of the commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez. Flying his flag aboard the Vigo 74, Captain Henry Ommanney, by 20 April he was at anchor off Gothenburg, and after Saumarez’ arrival he was ordered around to the island of Hano off the east coast of Sweden. In October he struck his flag and travelled overland to Gothenburg before returning to the Vigo off Hano later that month, and on 11 December his flagship arrived back at Portsmouth after piloting the impounded Russian fleet through the Kattegat in difficult conditions.
In February 1813, upon his appointment as the commander-in-chief of the Baltic station following Saumarez’ retirement, Morris was presented to the Prince Regent at a levee, and on 2 March he departed Deal for Gothenburg once more aboard the Vigo, Captain Thomas White, and with a much reduced squadron. It was soon reported that he had taken a score of Danish prizes off Malmo and that he had managed to see the Baltic convoy of over three hundred vessels safely though the Malmo Channel and the Sound into the Baltic. Unfortunately any hopes of an accord with the Danes were scuppered when the fort at Elsinore and the Danish gunboats fired on the British as they passed through the three mile narrows between Denmark and Sweden. In early May he was introduced to the Swedish Crown Prince at Helsingborg, but on the 25th of that month he struck his flag and returned to England aboard the brig Cruizer 16, Commander Thomas Richard Toker, at his own request in order to retire ashore.
Morris was nominated a K.C.B. on 2 January 1815 and promoted vice-admiral on 12 August 1819. He died on 15 April 1830 at his residence of Thames Bank Great Marlow, having never recovered from an incident two years earlier when he had been thrown from his carriage after the horse had taken fright at a dog.
On 25 October 1802 at St. Margaret’s, Westminster he married Margaretta Cocks, the second daughter of an eminent banker of Downing Street, Westminster, and the future sister-in-law of Admiral Sir William Hargood. She died in 1842.
Morris was very highly regarded, and was considered as brave, clever, indefatigable and zealous, and being able to inspire his men in an animated and impressive manner.