Sir Peter Halkett

1765-1839. Born on 16 October 1765, he was the second son of Sir John Wedderburn Halkett, the 4th baronet of Pitfirrane in Fife, and of his second wife, Mary Hamilton. He was the elder brother of both General John Halkett, who served as the governor of the Bahamas from 1801-4, and of Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Halkett.

After serving as a midshipman in the American Revolutionary War, Halkett continued in employment following the peace aboard the frigate Daedalus 32, Captain Thomas Pringle, serving in home waters during 1783-4. He then spent two years in France with his good friend, the future Admiral Sir Philip Durham, and after returning to the Navy he joined the Salisbury 50, Captain Erasmus Gower, which ship flew the broad pennant of Commodore John Elliot at Newfoundland from 1786-8, going out in the June of each of the following three years and returning home in the late autumn. Thereafter he was employed on the same station under the new commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Mark Milbanke, who also flew his flag aboard the Salisbury, Captain William Domett.

Admiral Sir Peter Halkett

On 8 October 1789 he was commissioned lieutenant and appointed commander of the recently acquired cutter Placentia 4 at Newfoundland by Vice-Admiral Milbanke, and in the following year, having returned home, he joined the Impregnable 98, Captain Sir Thomas Byard, which later served as the flagship of Rear-Admiral Phillips Cosby during the Russian Armament in 1791. He left this ship when she was paid off in September that year.

Halkett was next appointed the first lieutenant of the frigate Syren 32, Captain John Manley, which carried the Duke of York to the Netherlands at the end of February 1793 following the commencement of the war with the French Republic. Chosen to lead a squadron of gunboats in the defence of the Dutch canals against the French army commanded by General Charles François Dumouriez, he performed this duty so well that the Prince of Orange ordered gold medals worth five hundred guineas to be presented to him and two other lieutenants. Of more benefit to his career, the Duke of York recommended his promotion to commander, which was confirmed by the Admiralty on 10 April with his appointment to the Flirt 14.

Two weeks later, on 25 April 1793, Halkett was appointed to the Echo 14 at Sheerness, in which he sailed for Scotland and supplemented his crew with men sponsored by his father. The sloop took a convoy from the Firth of Forth to the Nore in August and then went around to Deal to collect a convoy for Portsmouth, from where she departed for Ostend on 16 September with transports carrying the 42nd Regiment of Foot under convoy. She was back in the Downs by the middle of November, and she again sailed for Portsmouth with transports to arrive on the 23rd. At the end of the month, she put out of the Hampshire port to return on 18 December with a convoy from Guernsey, and on Christmas Day she left with another convoy for Plymouth.

The year of 1794 began with further convoy duty from Guernsey to Portsmouth, and after a brief sortie with Commodore Sir John Warren’s flying squadron off Le Havre the Echo departed Portsmouth on 25 January to serve under the orders of Rear-Admiral John MacBride. On 15 February she anchored in Stokes Bay off Gosport with the admiral’s flagship, and she then accompanied that vessel on a cruise off Cherbourg, prior to putting out from Portsmouth with the same officer’s squadron on 21 March. She was at Guernsey under the orders of Captain Sir James Saumarez of the Crescent 36 at the end of the month, and in early April she escorted more troops to the Channel Islands, prior to arriving on the 25th at Plymouth with Warren’s dispatches announcing the capture of two French frigates and a corvette off the coast of Brittany on 23 April. A further cruise under MacBride followed, from which the Echo returned to Plymouth with the admiral on 9 May. Shortly afterwards it was reported that a French frigate squadron was at large in the Channel, and the Echo formed a part of a strong squadron that was sent out, but failed, to intercept it. During July she was anchored in Plymouth Sound flying MacBride’s flag whilst that officer was recovering from injuries sustained in a fall from his horse several months earlier, and she then went around to Sheerness to be paid off on 29 July

On 13 August 1794 Halkett was posted captain, and shortly afterwards he and most of the Echo’s perfectly trained crew moved into the frigate Circe 28 at Chatham. After sailing from the Downs in September under the orders of Captain George Lumsdaine of the Polyphemus 64 in search of a French squadron from Dunkirk, which again remained elusive, the Circe was employed in the North Sea. At the beginning of December she was despatched to collect the Duke of York from Helvoetsluys, although by the time she arrived the royal general had already embarked upon a packet for England.

In January 1795 the Circe put out from the Downs for the Leith Roads, and in April she received on board a group of volunteers before returning south in the following month. During the latter part of July, she sailed in company with Rear-Admiral Thomas Pringle’s flagship Asia 64, Captain John M’Dougall, to collect the Comte d’Artois from Cuxhaven, and after proceeding up the Thames she returned to the Downs where she was stationed in August. She then joined Admiral Adam Duncan’s North Sea fleet which put to sea on 20 August upon the receipt of intelligence that the Dutch were out.

Whilst continuing to be employed in the North Sea fleet, the Circe parted her cables at Yarmouth during severe storms in January 1796. By February she was in the Downs to briefly fly Admiral Joseph Peyton’s flag, and on 10 April she arrived in the Shetland Isles. Remaining thereafter in Scottish waters, she was at Leith with several Russian men-of-war in June, and on 23 August she brought in a Dutch whaler which she had captured in northern waters.

Early in 1797 the Circe was engaged in convoy duty out of Leith, prior to being sent in protection of the trade on the northern Scottish coast. When the fleet mutiny reached Yarmouth on 27 May, Halkett received Admiral Adam Duncan’s permission to take his command away in protection of the trade, and then to Hull. Even so, whilst in passage Halkett, his first lieutenant Charles Richardson, and the other officers, had to defend the frigate’s helm and post marines at the hatchways to keep mutinous elements of the crew below decks, whilst a brig-cutter that was in company was unable to provide any assistance as the Circe’s disaffected men had taken control of the frigate’s cannon. Once the mutineers had surrendered, Halkett wisely refrained from requesting court-martials on all but one man, although he did order several floggings. Upon reaching Hull on 10 June, the ringleader, a boatswain’s mate by the name of Ward, was taken on shore and jailed. Remaining in the Humber until the mutiny ended, it was reported that the Circe’s crew offered a reward of one hundred guineas for the apprehension of anyone who attempted to divert them from their duty. When she did eventually put to sea, she sailed towards Scarborough in search of a French lugger privateer, and at the end of the month she took a convoy down to London from the Humber.

On 1 August 1797 the Circe arrived off the Texel with the intention of delivering livestock to Duncan’s fleet when a local fisherman advised Halkett that the Dutch fleet had put to sea. He returned immediately to Yarmouth and dispatched a lieutenant to the Admiralty with the news. These tidings caused no little alarm in the City of London, but then days later Halkett sent a second dispatch admitting to having been deceived by the Dutch fisherman, for by now another vessel had arrived at Yarmouth with the information that the Dutch were still at anchor, and that Admiral Duncan was still off the mouth of the Texel. It transpired that when the Circe had initially appeared off the Texel a storm had briefly forced Duncan off station and had prompted the Dutch fleet to retreat into the inner harbour. Halkett’s erroneous report led to him receiving some stinging criticism in the press at his perceived naivety.

In October 1797 the Circe was once more off the Texel when the Dutch fleet did put to sea, and after despatching the lugger Speculator to Yarmouth with news of their sailing, Halkett proceeded to shadow them until the arrival of Admiral Duncan and the North Sea fleet. Towards the conclusion of the Battle of Camperdown that followed on 11 October, a lieutenant from the Circe boarded the defeated Dutch flagship Vryheid 74 before a smaller Dutch vessel could rescue the commander-in-chief, Admiral De Winter, and the Dutch admiral’s flag was taken on board the Circe. Whilst attempting to board the Circe, de Winter reportedly fell into the sea and had to be rescued by two of the frigate’s crew. The Circe later got a hawser on board the Vryheid when she was on the point of going ashore, and she kept her in tow until the morning when a ship of the line was able to relieve her. Halkett’s command arrived at Sheerness with several other ships of the fleet and five Dutch prizes on 28 November, and under the presidency of Vice-Admiral Skeffington Lutwidge she hosted the court-martial of Captain John Williamson of the Agincourt 64 from 4 December until 1 January 1798, that officer having been accused of cowardice, negligence, and disaffection during the battle. Halkett provided witness testimony during the trial, and whilst it was still on-going it was announced that at its conclusion, he would take command of the Apollo 38.

Upon transferring into the Apollo in January 1798, Halkett again took as many of his crew with him as he could, and by March he was patrolling off the Brown Well Banks, some fifty miles off the Dutch coast. His command then joined a small squadron patrolling of the Texel, and she served with a larger force on the same station over the next few months. In the second week of June, she briefly returned to Yarmouth with three Dutch ships laden with naval stores before rejoining the fleet, and in July Halkett commanded a small squadron off the Shetlands. Two Dutch whalers were captured in August and sent into the Leith Roads, to be followed by the Apollo towards the end of the month, and at the end of September she was ordered south to Chatham to be refitted.

The first of the two HMS Apollo’s commanded by Halkett

The Apollo came out of dock at the end of October 1798, but she remained at Chatham through the following month before going up to Blackstakes to take on ordnance stores. On 17 December she finally sailed from Sheerness to Yarmouth, but after resuming her station off the Dutch coast she was wrecked on the Haak Sands off the Texel on 7 January 1799. Halkett and his crew returned to England aboard a sequestered a Prussian wine vessel, and at the resulting court martial aboard the Monmouth 64 at Yarmouth on 15 January he was acquitted of blame for the Apollo’s loss, although her pilot was dismissed.

In August 1799 Halkett was appointed to the new frigate Apollo 36, built at Deptford, and which arrived at Sheerness from Long Reach on 8 November. Sailing in company with the Hornet 16, Commander John Nash, she departed Portsmouth at the end of December with the trade for the West Indies, but the voyage was troubled by poor weather which saw many of the merchantmen return alone to England. During the voyage out the Apollo was able to capture a rich Spanish vessel bound from Havana to Cadiz, together with the Spanish brig Aquilla 4 on 11 January, as well as to recapture a British West-Indiaman, the Lady Harewood. She eventually reached Barbados in the middle of February, and on her latter arrival at Jamaica was of necessity re-masted.

Remaining on the Jamaican station, the Apollo was despatched on a cruise to the Gulf of Mexico by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, and she took the sloop Cántabro 18 on 27 July 1800 off Havana, destroyed the ex-British privateer Resolution 18 on 10 November, which vessel had been captured by the Spanish eighteen years previously, and captured the French privateer Vigilante 14 on 16 February 1801. During the two years that she remained on the station she took a further twenty vessels, and she also rescued the crew of the Meleager 32, Captain Hon. Thomas Bladen Capel, after that frigate had struck a coral reef in the Gulf of Mexico in June 1801 leaving her crew marooned for two weeks. The Apollo finally departed Jamaica in January 1802 and returned to Portsmouth on 12 March to be paid off at the beginning of April, with Halkett and his crew being somewhat the richer.

After four years on the beach, he recommissioned the Ganges 74 at Portsmouth on 28 April 1806, and in June he received men from the recently paid off Dreadnought 98, Captain John Conn, to complete his crew, allowing his ship to proceed out of the harbour. Early in July she dropped down to St. Helens where she remained for some weeks, and on 20 August she and the Captain 74, Captain George Cockburn, got under way to rendezvous with an expeditionary force that was in passage from the Downs. Unfortunately, the two vessels were unable to proceed down the Channel due to contrary winds, and so they anchored in Plymouth Sound where they were seconded to Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Louis’ squadron which sailed on 29 August in search of Rear-Admiral Jean Baptiste Philibert Willaumez’ Brest squadron. As it transpired, the French force had already been dispersed in a gale on 18 August, but the Ganges was present at the capture of the French frigate Presidente 40 on 27 September, and she returned to Cawsand Bay on 14 October having left Louis three days previously.

On 12 November 1806 the Ganges departed Falmouth with three other sail of the line under the orders of Captain Hon. Robert Stopford of the Spencer 74 in escort of Brigadier-General Robert Crauford’s expedition to the River Plate, and after reaching St, Iago on 14 December she departed the squadron at Porto Praya on 11 January 1807 to arrive at Portsmouth on 11 February in the company of the Captain. On 24 February she dropped down to St. Helens with the Captain and a dozen East Indiamen, and having put to sea shortly afterwards she evidently saw them to a safe latitude before cruising with Commodore Sir Samuel Hood’s squadron off Madeira. After returning to Falmouth with Hood on 11 June, the Ganges sailed days later for Plymouth, and then went around to Portsmouth.

On 13 July 1807 the Ganges left Portsmouth with other ships for the Downs to join Admiral Lord Gambier’s expedition to Denmark. Hoisting the broad pennant of Commodore Richard Keats, Halkett’s command was sent ahead of the main force to occupy the Great Belt, and Halkett superintended the landing of the troops on Zealand under Lieutenant-General Lord Rosslyn. Once Copenhagen had surrendered on 7 September, the Ganges was lightened to allow her to cross the grounds into the Danish capital, and her crew made the Frederica 74 sea-worthy for the passage to England. The Ganges arrived back in the Downs with the promoted Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood on 6 November, and eight days later reached Portsmouth with half a dozen sail of the line under the orders of Commodore Keats.

Continuing with the Ganges, Halkett sailed from St. Helens on 6 December 1807 in command of four other sail of the line to reinforce Rear-Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith in the Tagus following the earlier evacuation of the Portuguese royal family on 29 November. He briefly flew the flag of the second-in-command, Rear-Admiral William Albany Otway, prior to the arrival in April 1808 of that officer’s new flagship, the Barfleur 98, Captain Donald M’Leod. Remaining thereafter in the Tagus, Halkett’s knowledge of the French language was utilised ashore in dealings with the French army following the controversial Convention of Cintra which was signed on 30 August, and he conducted the embarkation of Marshal Andoche Junot’s army for its return to France. Subsequent to the departure of Smith’s replacement, Admiral Sir Charles Cotton, Halkett commanded the Lisbon station with a broad pennant until the arrival of Vice-Admiral Hon. George Berkeley in January 1809.

Copenhagen surrenders to the British – 1807

Having left the Tagus on 7 June 1809 with two other sail of the line in search of the Lorient squadron which had broken the British blockade, the Ganges eventually arrived back at Portsmouth on 4 July after cruising for up to a month off the Azores. At the end of July, she sailed for the Downs with a large fleet under Rear-Admiral Otway which was transporting troops to form part of the force that would undertake the Walcheren Expedition, and having entered the Dover Roads on 15 September Halkett left the Ganges shortly afterwards.

On 12 August 1812 he was promoted rear-admiral, and from April to September 1814, he served as the second-in-command at Portsmouth, flying his flag aboard the Gladiator 44, Captain Charles Hewit.

Halkett was further promoted vice-admiral on 19 July 1821 and whilst remaining out of active service he remained conspicuous in society, attending levees with King William IV in August 1830 and April 1831, being presented to the monarch in August 1832 upon his admission to the Knighthood of the Grand Cross of the Gulphic Order, dining with the King and several other naval officers at Brighton on 18 February 1833, attending a ball at Dublin Castle in the following month, joining another levee with the King on 1 May, and yet another in July. He was also a leading member of society in the Southampton area.

Throughout 1835 there were rumours that Halkett was to be appointed the commander-in-chief of the North American and West Indian station in the expectation that Vice-Admiral Sir George Cockburn would return home to take a seat at the Admiralty, and in early December the appointment was confirmed. After attending the King, he sailed in March 1836 with his flag aboard the Melville 78, Captain Peter Douglas, and he reached Bermuda via Madeira on 1 May following a stormy passage. During July he was at Halifax, and he sailed for the West Indies in November, being ashore at Jamaica in February 1807. Learning that he had been promoted admiral on 10 January, he was obliged to resign his command as the post as it was the province of a vice-admiral, and having been succeeded by Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Paget, Halkett returned home via Bermuda and Halifax to Portsmouth on 2 August following a brisk thirteen-day passage from the latter port. Meanwhile, on 26 January he had become the 6th Halkett baronet on the death of his brother, Charles.

During June 1838 reports began to circulate that Halkett was in poor health, but even so there was every indication that he would be given the Portsmouth command. Sadly, before he could be allocated this honour, he died at his residence in Pitfirrane, Fife, on 7 October 1839.

Halkett married Elizabeth Todd of London in Edinburgh on 14 October 1802, but their marriage was short-lived as she died at Clifton on 28 April 1814. He had one son and two daughters. His son, Sir John Halkett, was born in January 1805, served as his flag-lieutenant from 1836, was promoted commander on 4 August 1837, and died in 1847. During his long period of unemployment in the early 1800’s Halkett lived in Edinburgh, during 1809 he was living at Catherington House, near Horndean in Hampshire, and by 1833 he had a residence at Uplands Mansion, Fareham.