Sir Robert Barlow

1757-1843. The eldest son of William Barlow, a merchant from Bath, and of his wife Hilaire Butcher, he was born in Covent Garden, London on Christmas Day 1757, the elder brother of George Hilario Barlow who would serve as the acting governor-general of India from 1805-7.

Barlow entered the Navy with the rating of able seaman aboard the sloop Swift, was on the books of the Romney 50 as part of the admiral’s service, and had a spell aboard the Tartar 28 as a master’s mate. On 6 November 1778 he was commissioned lieutenant of the Courageux 74, Captain Hon. Constantine Phipps, and he remained on that vessel with the Channel fleet until the peace of 1783, being present at the skilful capture of the French frigate Minerve 32 off Brest on 4 January 1781 and the relief of Gibraltar on 18 October 1782.

From 1786-9 he commanded the cutter Barracouta 14 on revenue service in the Channel and off Rame Head near Plymouth, and from 20 November 1790 the sloop Childers 14 in the same service off Cornwall, being promoted commander on 22 November. In July 1791 he brought four hundred and sixty-three casks of contraband spirit into Portsmouth, and in June 1792 detained a shallop with three hundred casks of liquor in Mounts Bay, Cornwall.

The Brest batteries fire at the Childers in 1793

On 2 January 1793, before war with France had been declared, the Childers was fired upon by the French batteries when reconnoitring Brest. Barlow’s hoisting of British colours failed to prevent the barrage, yet even though she was struck by a 48lb shot the Childers managed to escape unharmed under power of her sweeps. Following this event war was declared between Britain and France on 2 February, and thirteen days later Barlow took the first prize of the war with her capture of the privateer Patriote off Gravelines. A further capture was the privateer Triton on 14 March, and as a reward for his success Barlow was posted captain on 24 May.

From July 1793 he commanded the Pegasus 28 in the Channel, which frigate underwent a refit at Plymouth in December but in January 1794 was chased into Torbay by five French frigates which had intercepted the Belfast convoy off Berry Head. The Pegasus subsequently acted as the repeater of signals for Admiral Lord Howe at the Battle of the Glorious First of June.

In July 1794 Barlow was appointed to the crack twelve-pounder frigate Aquilon 32, formerly commanded by Captain Hon. Robert Stopford, but having joined the Channel Fleet she was forced into Plymouth within a matter of weeks having lost her bowsprit and fore-topmast. After going out on a cruise from Portsmouth Barlow returned at the end of April to give evidence at the court-martial of Captain Anthony Molloy, conversant with that officer’s conduct at the Battle of the Glorious First of June. The Aquilon then made a short trip to Guernsey, following which she was present at the Battle of Lorient on 23 June 1795. She thereafter remained with the Channel Fleet off Belleisle before entering Plymouth at the end of August.

Barlow next moved to the brand new eighteen-pounder frigate Phoebe 36 in December 1795, being initially based at Falmouth and escorting the Mediterranean convoy out from the Cornish port in March 1796 before coming back to Portsmouth at the end of April. In December, whilst serving with the inshore squadron off Brest, he was detached by Captain Sir Edward Pellew of the Indefatigable 44 to warn Vice-Admiral John Colpoys of the breakout of the Ireland-bound French fleet. On 10 January 1797 off the Scilly Islands he captured the French corvette Atalanta 16, four days out of Brest, and continuing to operate out of Falmouth he cruised that summer under the orders of Pellew. His greatest success came on 21 December when the Phoebe defeated the French frigate Néréide 36 in the Bay of Biscay, suffering casualties of three men killed and ten wounded, in return for twenty killed and fifty-five wounded, a capture that earned Barlow £3,535 in prize money.

The Phoebe’s capture of the French frigate Nereide in 1797

During the early summer of 1798 he commanded a small squadron in defence of the captured French island of Marcou, and over the course of two months during the late autumn the Phoebe was repaired at Plymouth. From April 1799 she served out of Cork, earning further success on 11 October when she took the Bordeaux privateer Grand Ferrailleur 16 in the Western Approaches. Another capture in November which Barlow brought into Plymouth was the letter-of-marque Hasard 10, carrying produce from Senegal, this prize being worth 10,000 guineas.

After sailing out of Plymouth in January 1800 the Phoebe captured the St. Malouin privateer Bellegarde 14 on 21 February. On 5 March she was attacked by the Heureux 22 which had mistaken the frigate for an Indiaman and paid for her error by being captured with losses of eighteen men killed and twenty-five wounded in comparison to the British three killed and three wounded. The Heureux was subsequently bought into the navy as a twenty-two gun sloop. Continuing out of Cork in 1800, Barlow gave passage to Admiral Lord Gardner from Portsmouth in November, and departed that port with a huge convoy in the following January.

Perhaps his greatest success was the capture of the French frigate Africaine 40 carrying four hundred troops near Gibraltar on 19 February, inflicting the phenomenal casualties of two hundred men killed and one hundred and forty-four wounded in return for one man killed and twelve wounded. As a result of this success he was knighted on 16 June 1801 when being presented to the King by Admiral Earl of St. Vincent. Meanwhile the Phoebe entered Plymouth in May for a through refit.

After a brief appointment to the Audacious 74 in place of the invalided Captain Hon. Henry Curzon Barlow joined the Triumph 74 at Plymouth on 16 August 1801 and immediately set sail for Portsmouth to fit for foreign service. Going out to the Mediterranean, he continued on that station throughout the peace of the following year, being sent to Algiers in June 1802 after three British vessels had been detained, although it was not until the end of the year that this dispute was resolved. He thereafter patrolled the Gut of Gibraltar when there were rumours of a French assault on Algeria. Following the resumption of hostilities he joined Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s fleet in August 1803 and after leaving the Mediterranean with a convoy in October 1804 the Triumph reached Portsmouth on 11 November, whereupon she was paid off.

During August 1805 Barlow commissioned the London 98 at Plymouth, but he removed from her shortly afterwards, and from October he served as the captain of the fleet to Admiral Lord Keith aboard the Barfleur 98, Captain Philip Durham, in the Downs.

On 7 June 1806 he assumed the civil position of deputy comptroller of the navy, and on 18 November 1808 became the commissioner of Chatham Dockyard, having been presented to the King a few weeks previously on the announcement of the appointment. His duty included the hosting of minor and foreign royalty and attending the launching of new vessels. During this period he became a superannuated captain on 31 July 1810.

Barlow was created a K.C.B. on 20 May 1820, became a superannuated rear-admiral on 24 January 1823 when he left Chatham, and was restored to the active list as an admiral on 12 April 1840. On 23 February 1842 he was created a G.C.B., and he died at the Archbishop’s Palace in Canterbury on 11 May 1843, where he had been long domiciled. He was buried at St. Mary Magdalene Churchyard, Gillingham.

He married Elizabeth Garrett of Worting in Hampshire on 8 September 1785, who died at Chatham on 17 September 1817 having borne two sons, the younger of whom entered the clergy, and five daughters. One of their daughters, Frances Harriet, married the 6th Viscount Torrington, and another, Hilaire, after being widowed became the second wife of the very elderly William, 1st Earl Nelson.

Barlow’s peers held him in high esteem and he received many requests to take their sons under his wing. Known as ‘Bob’, he was a favourite of Admiral Earl Howe but not of his flag captain Sir Roger Curtis. On 21 January 1819 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.