Sir Philip Charles Calderwood Henderson Durham

1763-1845. Born on 29 July 1763, he was the third son of a wealthy landowner and laird, James Durham of Largo, Fife, and his second wife Ann Calderwood. An elder brother was Lieutenant-General James Durham.

On 1 May 1777 Durham entered the navy aboard the Trident 64, initially commanded by Captain John Elliot, but which sailed to North America with the peace commissioners in the spring of 1778 flying Elliot’s broad pennant, and with Anthony James Pye Molloy serving as his flag captain. The latter, who was to be dismissed his command and never re-employed after the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, was a tyrannical and harsh disciplinarian who almost provoked his men into an outright mutiny.

In June 1779 Durham returned to England aboard the Snake 12, Commander Billy Douglas, and he subsequently found a position with Commodore Elliot aboard the Edgar 74, serving at the Moonlight Battle on 16 January 1780, and at the relief of Gibraltar by Admiral Sir George Rodney. The Edgar remained at the rock for the next six months where Durham found himself engaged in gunboat duty.

Durham as a post captain

In July 1781, after returning home, he became an acting lieutenant of the Victory 100 flying Elliot’s broad pennant, and he later assisted that officer’s successor, Rear-Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, with his innovative signalling system. He was present at Kempenfelt’s brilliant attack on a French convoy under the noses of their fleet on 12 December, and in the following March transferred with Kempenfelt to the Royal George 100, Captain Martin Waghorn, seeing service in the Channel Fleet campaign that summer. On 29 August he survived the sinking of the Royal George at Spithead, as being the officer of the watch he was able to effect his escape from the quarterdeck. Even so, he was forced to survive for an hour in the water and on the masthead before being picked up by a boat and put to bed on the Victory.

Admiral Lord Howe had every intention of retaining Durham aboard the Victory as a lieutenant, but when he was informed by his captain of the fleet, Commodore John Leveson-Gower, that Durham was still an acting-lieutenant the commander-in-chief could only promise to promote him at the first opportunity. Instead Durham joined the Union 90, as her captain, John Dalrymple, could not understand the new signal system employed by the admiral. He was thereafter present at the relief of Gibraltar on 18 October and the action off Cape Spartel, before the Union sailed for the West Indies with Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Hughes’ squadron at the end of the year. Whilst in the Leeward Islands he was finally commissioned lieutenant on 26 December aboard the Raisonnable 64, Captain Lord Hervey, and he remained in this capacity until the peace of 1783.

After returning to England he was appointed to the West Africa-bound frigate Unicorn Prize 20, Captain Charles Stirling, but he failed to take up this posting due to health reasons and instead travelled to France with his friend, the future Admiral Sir Peter Halkett, where he remained for the next two years. In 1786 he joined the Salisbury 50, Captain Erasmus Gower, flying the broad pennant of Commodore John Elliot who had become the governor and commander-in-chief designate for Newfoundland, and he also served under Elliot as his signal lieutenant aboard the Barfleur 98, Captain Robert Carthew Reynolds, during the Spanish Armament of 1790.

On 12 November 1790 Durham was promoted commander, and he assumed the acting captaincy of the Daphne 20 bound for Barbados and then to Jamaica with despatches. After arriving at the latter island in January 1791 he transferred to the sloop Cygnet 18, and he sailed back to England in December with news of the slave uprising on the French territory of Saint-Domingue, the modern day Haiti.

Upon joining the Spitfire 8 in February 1793, Durham took her to sea on the 12th and a day later captured the privateer cutter Afrique, which was the first vessel to be taken in the war against revolutionary France after just twelve days of conflict. To honour this capture Lloyds of London awarded him a hundred guinea plate. He also managed to destroy two sloops and a privateer off Dieppe on 19 February, and engaged a further two brigs before being forced out to sea by the fort at Cherbourg on 27 April. Somewhat patriotically he donated his several thousand pounds of prize-money to his brother for the formation of a regiment, but when the repayment was eventually made it was to a banking-house which soon failed and left him totally out of pocket.

On 24 June 1793 he was posted captain of the Narcissus 20, although he transferred to the Hind 28 at Sheerness four months later. This frigate fortunately escaped capture by a squadron of five French frigates and a brig on the ensuing 8 January when Durham sent a boat to intercept two sail of the line which had been unaccountably ignoring his signals of distress, these being the Impregnable 90, Captain George Westcott, and Majestic 74, Captain Charles Cotton. It later transpired that the two captains had believed his signals were part of a French ruse to bring about an engagement, and being desperately short-handed because they were merely transferring from one port to another they had not wanted to put their own ships in jeopardy. During this action the Hind lost two men killed and ten wounded.

In early March 1794 Durham sailed in company with the Fox 32, Captain Thomas Drury, as the escort of a convoy to the Mediterranean, and he returned home some months later with the Fox and the Thalia 36, Captain Richard Grindall, in escort of one hundred and fifty-seven merchantmen. During this voyage his consorts became detached, but as Lloyds of London attributed the safe arrival of the convoy to Durham’s care he was recommend by them for promotion. In consequence he was given the Anson 38 on 30 October 1794, which vessel had been cut down from a 64-gun sail of the line to become one of the most desired of all frigates

Attached initially to the Channel Fleet, the Anson was present at the Battle of Lorient on 23 June 1795, and with Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren’s expedition to Quiberon Bay where her boats brought off royalist soldiers in the face of republican attacks a month later. Having returned home with despatches and attended an audience with the chief ministers of the government, Durham returned to Warren’s squadron off Quiberon Bay and spent the autumn assisting the Chouan rebellion and acting as a conduit for intelligence received from Paris.

On 20 March 1796 the Anson, in company with the Pomone 44, Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren, Galatea 32, Captain Richard Keats, and Artois 38, Captain Sir Edmund Nagle, captured several merchantmen and the small French frigate Etoile 24 out of a convoy of seventy sail destined for Brest. She was also present at the chase and destruction of the Andromaque 36 off the Gironde on 24 August, performed a similar supporting role in the destruction of the frigate Calliope 28 on the Penmarcks on 16 July 1797, and in company with the Boadicea 38, Captain Keats, took the privateers Zéphyr 8 on 19 October and Railleur 20 on 17 November. On 29 December the Anson received the surrender of the Daphné 24 after a short engagement off the French coast, this vessel being the ex-British Daphne 20 which Durham had temporarily commanded seven years previously.

The action off Tory Island in 1798

In the following year he was equally successful in action against the French, capturing the privateer Jason 12 in the Channel on 8 February and engaging the Charente 36 of the Ile de Aix on 22 March when in company with the Canada 74, Commodore Warren, and the Phaeton 38, Captain Hon. Robert Stopford. Together with the latter vessel he captured the privateer Mercure 18 on 31 August 1798 and the French frigate Flore 36 in the Bay of Biscay on 6 September.

Whilst returning to his station having escorted the Flore into Plymouth, Durham fell in with three frigates that were shadowing a French expedition to Ireland. Despite having suffered storm damage the Anson subsequently took part in Commodore Sir John Borlase Warren’s defeat of a French squadron off Tory Isle on 12 October, during which engagement Durham at one time found his command fighting off five enemy frigates. Six days later he came upon the huge frigate Loire 44, which being partially dismasted could not avoid an action with him, and after a gallant defence she eventually struck her colours when the Kangaroo 18, Captain Edward Brace, arrived on the scene. All of Warren’s captains received the thanks of Parliament and a gold medal, whilst Durham was also offered the Duke of Clarence’s own sword and belt as a mark of the future king’s esteem.

The Anson was next sent out on a cruise, during which she captured the prolific French privateer Boulonaise 14 in the Bay of Biscay on 2 February 1799. Being appointed to command a force of three frigates that was to intercept two Spanish frigates returning from Santa Cruz with substantial treasure aboard, Durham’s orders were countermanded at the last minute and he was told to attend the King at Weymouth instead. As a result he missed out on a prize purse of £40,730, this being the equivalent of two hundred and seventy times his annual salary, or £2.4m in today’s money. Instead, on 9 September, he and his wife presented a naval fête aboard the Anson for the royal party, during which festivity the King took the opportunity to slink off alone below decks to chat with the crew, having earlier castigated Durham for presenting his dinner plate from the wrong side.

Upon resuming her cruise out of Plymouth the Anson unsuccessfully chased the British man-of-war Danae, Captain Lord Proby, on 15 March 1800 after her crew had mutinied prior to carrying her into Brest, and on 27 April she took the letter-of-marque Vanqueur 16, bound from Bordeaux to San Domingo, as well as the privateer Hardi 18 two days later despite the close proximity of the French frigate Braave 36. On 6 June she left Portsmouth with a convoy for the Mediterranean, and on 27 June captured seven Spanish merchantmen from under the noses of the Algeciras batteries, at the same time driving two of the twenty-five attendant gunboats onto the African coast. Remaining in the Mediterranean, she later conveyed a fleet of transports to Minorca.

On 24 February 1801, having returned to England, Durham transferred into the twenty-four pounder frigate Endymion 40, sailing for the Lisbon station to become the senior officer there for a short time, and capturing the privateer Furie 14 on 13 April when she was on the verge of attacking Portugal’s Brazilian convoy. He next received a five hundred guinea plate from the East India Company for bringing home a convoy from St. Helena, and he retained the Endymion until April 1802 whereupon he resided ashore for the duration of the peace.

On the resumption of war in April 1803 Durham was appointed to the Windsor Castle 98, and on 29 May transferred to the Defiance 74, which he commanded thereafter in the Inshore Squadron of the Channel fleet under the orders of Rear-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. During this time he re-took the Flying Fish, which had been previously captured whilst returning from Africa laden with ivory and gold dust, but he otherwise remained on this tedious and arduous duty throughout 1804 until the Defiance was detached to join Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder’s squadron following the breakout of the French fleets in January 1805.

The Battle of Cape Finisterre 1805

On 22 July 1805, as a result of his thoughtful positioning of the Defiance as a lookout ship, he caught sight of the homeward bound French Toulon fleet and enabled it to be brought to action that day in the Battle of Cape Finisterre. The Defiance suffered casualties of one man killed and seven wounded in what proved to be an indecisive and controversial engagement. After a brief refit in England the Defiance joined Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson off Cadiz on 8 October. Upon arrival Durham was informed that Calder required him to give evidence at his pending court martial relating to his stewardship of the fleet at the Battle of Cape Finisterre. Having been criticised by Calder for being over-zealous with his signals, and having not received what he felt was his due credit for bringing the action about, Durham preferred to remain off Cadiz with Nelson and he was not compelled to return.

He was therefore able to fight at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October where the Defiance was twelfth in Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood’s line, and where he was wounded in the leg during a memorable encounter with the Aigle 80, which subsequently struck to him. The Defiance also took possession of the San Juan Nepomuceno which had suffered at the guns of the Dreadnought and did not offer any further resistance. Collingwood later praise Durham for endeavouring to keep the Aigle afloat, but she unfortunately drove ashore four days later after the French had regained control from the Defiance’s prize crew. The badly damaged Defiance, which had suffered casualties of seventeen men killed and fifty-four wounded in the battle,was obliged to return to England for repairs and Durham was thus able to take the stand as a witness in Calder’s court martial after all.

He next commanded the Barfleur 98 from December 1805 as flag-captain to Admiral Lord Keith in the Downs, and he participated in Nelson’s funeral on 9 January 1806 by carrying the late admiral’s knight of the bath banner. In the early summer he joined the Renown 74, serving in the Channel Fleet, and he was given command of a squadron consisting of the Emerald 36, Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland, Tribune 38, Captain Thomas Baker, Santa Margarita 36, Captain Wilson Rathborne, and a brig which was sent to intercept Jerome Buonaparte who was returning from America aboard the Veteran 74. In the event the emperor’s younger brother escaped capture from the Tribune and two other men-of-war off Brittany. During March 1807 the Renown briefly acted as the flagship to Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent in the Channel Fleet before that officer retired ashore for the last time.

Throughout the winter of 1807-8 Durham remained in London attempting to raise funds to sit for election to parliament, and instead the Renown went out to the Mediterranean early in the new year with Captain Thomas Alexander temporarily acting for him. Finding that his political backers preferred not to sponsor a naval officer after all, Durham took passage out to the Mediterranean aboard the Hyperion 32, Captain Thomas Charles Brodie, an officer whose poor navigation would have seen the new frigate drive ashore but for Durham’s intervention.

He rejoined the Renown at Minorca and captured the Champenoite 12 in May 1809. Whilst flying a broad pennant as a commodore he assisted Rear-Admiral George Martin in the destruction of two French ships near Cette on 25 October, but only after he had apparently made the false signal of ‘enemy in sight’ so as to ensure his senior maintained the chase. In the following February the Renown entered the Downs with a convoy from Cadiz, and after she was paid off in May Durham remained unemployed.

On 31 July 1810 he was promoted rear-admiral, and in the spring of 1811 he hoisted his flag at short notice aboard the Suffolk-based guardship Ardent 64, Captain Robert Honyman, in which he went out to the Baltic as the temporary commander-in-chief for Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez. In April he transferred into the Hannibal 74, Captain Andrew King, and after returning briefly to the Downs was sent to patrol off the Texel with five sail of the line to monitor the movements of a Dutch squadron. Here Captain Thomas Browne joined the Hannibal in December prior to the two officers transferring to the Christian VII 80 in February 1812. Captain Henry Lidgbird Ball then took command of that vessel in the early summer.

Durham as an admiral

After returning to England Durham again had little respite before rushing down to Portsmouth to hoist his flag aboard the Venerable 74, Captain James Worth, and to second any other ships he needed in order to hunt down the Lorient squadron which was then at sea. To his utter chagrin the French retreated into port before he could bring them to action, and after returning to London once more he ended the year on duty off the Basque Roads with his flag on the Bulwark 74, his flag captain again being James Worth. He eventually returned from this duty to Plymouth on 23 November 1813.

On 16 December 1813 Durham was appointed commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands station with his flag aboard the Venerable, Captain Worth, and on his voyage out had the good fortune off Tenerife to fall in with two richly-laden French frigates, the Alcmène 40 and Iphigénie 40 on 16 January, which vessels were captured four days later. During 1814 his station was purged of the many American privateers that had been preying on the British shipping, although he was brought to task for refusing to send the captured vessels into Antigua as he deplored the high charges imposed by the prize court there. From 1814 he had various flag-captains to include William M’Culloch, George Pringle, Lieutenant Robert Wemyss, and Acting-Captain John Thompson.

Following Napoleon’s return to power in 1815 Durham co-operated with Lieutenant-General Sir James Leith in securing Martinique and Guadeloupe for the Bourbons. He returned to England in April 1816 having been nominated a K.C.B. on 2 January 1815 and, uniquely, a Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Military Merit in France by King Louis XVIII.

On 12 August 1819 he was promoted vice-admiral, on 22 July 1830 advanced to the rank of admiral, and on 17 November 1830 was awarded the G.C.B. He was elected M.P. for Queenborough in 1830 in the Tory interest but did not took his seat as the election was deemed to be invalid, but he did sit as the M.P. for Devizes from 1834-6. He became the commander-in-chief at Portsmouth on 28 March 1836 and held the position until April 1839 with his flag aboard the Britannia 120, Captain James Whitley Deans Dundas.

Having undertaken a winter tour to overcome the grief from the death of his second wife late in 1844, Durham died from bronchitis in Naples on 2 April 1845. His body was brought home in the steam-sloop Hecate, Commander James Bower.

He married Lady Charlotte Bruce, the third and only surviving daughter of the Earl of Elgin, on 28 March 1799. She died on 21 February 1816, but on 16 October 1817 he married Anne Isabella, the daughter and heiress of the eminently wealthy Sir James Henderson Bt. of Fife, whose surname Durham took. He had no issue from either marriage. In 1840 he added the further name of Calderwood upon inheriting an estate from his brother. He had one illegitimate daughter, Ann Bower, c1790-1858.

Durham was a friend of Vice-Admirals Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy and Lord Collingwood, and was popular with the royal family, being seen as a favourite raconteur by King George III, and later serving as an equerry to the Duke of Clarence. He was also on familiar terms with King Charles X of France and dined with King Louis Philippe.

As a youngster he displayed a bizarre humour and cheek, as illustrated when he wrote to a family friend stating that he had drowned in the Royal George disaster. Regarded as one of the foremost seamen of his day, he excited the admiration of the crew of the Venerable in 1813 by climbing the rigging, even though the leg injury he had sustained at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 had afflicted him thereafter. Fluent in French, he had an address in Berkeley Square, and never wanted for money