Sir Robert Waller Otway
1770-1846. He was born on 26 April 1770, reportedly the second of seven sons and one daughter of a wealthy dragoon officer, Cooke Otway, of Castle Otway, County Tipperary, and of his wife, Elizabeth Waller. The Reverend Samuel Otway, Lieutenant-General Loftus William Otway, and Major-General George Otway who died at Jamaica in 1804, were amongst his brothers. The family’s ancestors had moved to Ireland in Oliver Cromwell’s time.
Although his father wished him to join the Army, Robert Otway entered the Navy on 15 April 1784 aboard the Portsmouth guardship Elizabeth 74, Captain Robert Kingsmill, and in September 1785 he joined the frigate Phaeton 38, Captain John Colpoys, serving in the Mediterranean. After that vessel was paid off in August 1786, he took passage three months later aboard the Southampton 32, Captain Andrew Snape Douglas, to join the Trusty 50, flagship of Commodore Phillips Cosby in the Mediterranean, and he returned home with that vessel in February 1789.
He next joined the Blonde 32, Captain William Affleck, going to the West Indies, where in January 1792 he came under the wing of the commander-in-chief at Jamaica, Rear Admiral Philip Affleck, who was flying his flag aboard the Centurion 50, Captain William Albany Otway. In August he found a berth aboard the Charon 44, Captain Edmund Dod, serving off the African coast, and he remained with her until 1793.
Otway was commissioned lieutenant on 8 August 1793 by Vice-Admiral Affleck, who by then had taken his seat at the Admiralty as one of the Naval Lords. He was initially appointed to the brig Falcon, Captain James Bissett, serving in the Channel, and in December transferred to the Impregnable 98, Captain George Blagden Westcott, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Benjamin Caldwell. Following the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, he was publicly thanked by Caldwell for securing the foretopsail-yard under fire with the help of the future Vice-Admiral Sir Charles Dashwood, at that time a midshipman, thereby keeping the ship manoeuvrable. When the admiral shifted his flag into the Majestic 74 with Captain Westcott and went out to the Leeward Islands in October as commander-in-chief, he took Otway with him as his first lieutenant.
He was promoted commander of the sloop Thorn 16 by Caldwell in January 1795, and in April captured La Belle Creole, a huge schooner from Guadeloupe which had been commissioned for use by the French governor, Victor Hugues, for a campaign against the French Royalists at Martinique. Otway was rewarded with a two hundred guinea sword by the latter for saving them from almost certain massacre. On 25 May he captured an even bigger sloop, the Courrier National 18, following a night action of thirty-five minutes in which the French twice attempted to board, and in which he was one of five British men wounded. He was conspicuous in the invasion of St. Vincent where a party from the Thorn and men of the 60th Regiment captured the town of Owia, and he also landed another body of troops who, in co-operation with his crew, took the coastal stronghold of Château Bellair despite suffering twenty-five casualties, again including himself.
He was posted captain of the captured French frigate Jacobin 28 on 28 May 1795 by Caldwell, although this promotion was delayed by Admiralty bureaucracy. In the meantime he commanded the Inspector 16 on the Leeward Islands station. His official posting to captain was dated 30 October when the new commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands, Admiral John Laforey, promoted into the Mermaid 32 in succession to Captain Henry Warre, who was sent home with dispatches. It appears that in the early part of 1796 Captain Charles Davers briefly commanded the Mermaid before Otway returned to her.
Participating in Rear-Admiral Hugh Christian’s Leeward Islands campaign from April-June 1796, Otway boldly led the defence of Grenada against a French incursion despite the misgivings of the general commanding the British troops. In July he blockaded the French frigate Pensée 36 in the neutral Danish island of St. Thomas after that vessel had been engaged off Guadeloupe by the Aimable 32, Captain Jemmett Mainwaring, and on 8 August he battered the French frigate Vengeance 40 into submission in three hours under the eye of Victor Hugues at Martinique, although a dead calm prevented him from securing her capture. Hugues demonstrated his anger at the Vengeance’s performance by denying water to a group of British prisoners who had been cheering on the Mermaid, and by breaking the French frigate captain’s sword. On 10 December the Mermaid assisted the Resource 28, Captain Frederick Watkins, in the capture of the French corvette Général Leveau 16 off Saint-Domingue.
Otway next transferred to the Jamaican station where he became a favourite of the commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, who allowed him many cruises. On 7 March 1797 he took the privateer Liberté Générale, and on 20 April, when in company with the frigates Hermione 32, Captain Hugh Pigot, Quebec 32, Captain John Cooke and two smaller vessels, he assisted in the cutting out of twelve merchantmen from Jean Rebel, Saint- Domingue.
When the Mermaid was recalled to England for dockyard repairs at the end of April 1797, Otway exchanged with the sickly Captain James Newman Newman into the Ceres 32, but he soon complained at the lack of professionalism and discipline amongst her crew, with particular regard to their propensity to drunkenness. These failings manifested themselves when the frigate managed to run aground near Cartagena within a month of his taking command, and she only got off by throwing her guns overboard and cutting away her main-mast. Nevertheless, Otway was soon snapping up enemy shipping with a happy regularity once more, capturing the privateer Créole 6 in March 1798, and the small vessels Sally on 12 May, the Goulette on 18 May and the Aventure on 30 May. Two days later he drove the privateer Mutine 18 into a creek on Puerto Rico, and several days afterwards sent his boats in under fire to take her, whereupon her crew set her alight and took to the beach. During this period, and being in company with the Trent 36, Captain Richard Bagot, the Ceres also chased a ten-gun coast-guard vessel off Havana which was flying the pennant of a commodore, but both British frigates drove ashore and were temporarily at the mercy of the guns of their prey until Otway took to his boats to board the enemy vessel and burn her before re-floating the Ceres and then the Trent.
Shortly afterwards, in September 1798, he transferred to the Trent following the death of Captain Bagot. During operations off Puerto Rico in early 1799, being in company with the cutter Sparrow, Lieutenant Hugh Wylie, he sent in his marines on 30 March to take a five-gun battery to the north of Cape Rojo, and once they had destroyed it his men brought out a ship and a schooner, whilst two other schooners were scuttled by the Spanish. A few weeks later, his boats cut out a French privateer mounting eighteen guns and a Spaniard mounting ten guns from the Dead Man’s Chest, despite the enemy hoisting the bloody red flag which indicated that they would not be offering quarter. Fifty privateersmen were either to lose their lives or be wounded in this encounter.
In July 1799 Otway received intelligence that the ex-British frigate Hermione 32, which had mutinied on 22 September 1797 and been handed over to the Spanish by her crew, was at La Guayra on the Spanish Main, and abiding by the pledges of all the frigate captains in the West Indies he immediately set off to cut her out. Instead, he found a Spanish corvette which he cut out with two boatloads of men on 7 July, but on the next day, it being calm, he was attacked by the port’s gunboats. The action that followed resulted in the sinking of the corvette, but as her crew had remained as prisoners aboard her, his boats were able to escape when the Spaniards went to the rescue of their countrymen.
In September 1800 Otway finally left the West Indies and departed for England as flag captain to Admiral Sir Hyde Parker aboard the Trent. Over the five years that he had been in the West Indies, he had captured or destroyed two hundred privateers or merchantmen, earning £50,000 or about £4.5m in today’s money, and confirming his reputation as Parker’s most prolific cruiser.
Continuing as flag-captain to Admiral Parker, in October 1800 he joined the Royal George 100 upon his patron being appointed the second-in-command in the Channel. On 17 November they departed Portsmouth for the fleet, and the Royal George was back at Torbay by the end of the year before going out again to rejoin that force. On 10 February 1801 off Ushant, Otway exchanged with Captain John Child Purvis of the London 98, whereupon he sailed for Yarmouth to fly Parker’s flag in the expedition to the Baltic. During the campaign that followed, he seemingly displayed some influence over both Parker and the captain of the fleet, William Domett, and he was instrumental in the key decision not to make a passage towards Copenhagen via the Great Belt.
At the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April, Otway was sent at his own instigation by Parker to instruct Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson to disobey the famous signal of recall if the latter felt that it was still in his power to defeat the Danes, and it is likely that Otway’s personal intention was to ensure that the battle continued at all costs. He remained with Nelson aboard the Elephant 74 until the conclusion of the battle, and was afterwards charged with the delicate task of securing possession of the Holstein 60 after the Danes had sought not to relinquish her, a task he brilliantly achieved. Sent home with despatches aboard the brig Cruiser, he landed at Yarmouth on 14 April and took a coach to the Admiralty to deliver despatches on the next day to the secretary, Evan Nepean. Whilst still at the Admiralty, he came across Captain James Mosse’s son in the growing crowd, and with much distress he had to break the news of his father’s death in the battle to the boy. Two days later he left for the Baltic to rejoin the London, and his command eventually arrived at Portsmouth on 10 August to be paid off.
Almost immediately Otway was appointed to the Edgar 74, and after getting married on 15 August 1801 he sailed two weeks later from Portsmouth to join the Channel Fleet. On 30 January 1802 the Edgar arrived at Plymouth to be paid, and she was in the Sound until the beginning of March when orders were received for her and a number of other vessels to be stored from the rest of the fleet for foreign service. Sailing for the West Indies, her period in the Caribbean was uneventful, and with the French Revolutionary War drawing to an end she returned to Portsmouth with the other men-of-war on 24 June to be paid off at Chatham in July.
Prior to the resumption of hostilities on 16 May 1803, Otway was appointed to the Culloden 74 in March at Plymouth as flag-captain to Rear-Admiral George Campbell, but having arrived to join her he was soon invalided in favour of Captain Barrington Dacres. Once recovered, he was appointed to the Montagu 74 at Portsmouth in October, which he finally commissioned on 14 December after she had undergone a thorough repair. Even so, it was not until the end of January 1804 that she was ready for sea, and she remained off St. Helens on guard-ship duty for much of February until dropping back to Spithead to be paid. On 29 February, she sailed to join the Channel Fleet where she was ordered to join the inshore squadron.
On 6 March 1804 the Montagu assisted in the rescue of the crew of the Magnificent 74, Captain William Henry Jervis Ricketts, after that vessel had foundered on the Black Rocks. Continuing off Brest, Otway then had to face down a mutiny when an informer advised him that some of the men were planning to murder the officers and turn the ship over to the French. His command returned to Plymouth on14 June, by which time she was flying the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, and here four men were sentenced to death when a court-martial was held on the mutineers the next day. The Montagu sailed for the fleet once more on the 25th, nine days later two of the mutineers were hung at Plymouth, and on 9 July the other two men were hung before Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis, the commander-in-chief off Brest.
During August 1804, the Montagu flew Graves’ flag when the Inshore Squadron drove a small French squadron back into Brest, and on 15 September she came into Plymouth to re-victual before sailing at the end of the month for the Rochefort blockade. She was back at Plymouth on 27 October and then went out to the Bay of Biscay once more to serve off Corunna and Ferrol. During April 1805 she was off Ferrol with Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder before returning to Plymouth with that officer’s dispatches on 18 May, and on 5 June she sailed to join the Channel Fleet. She was present during the fleet’s brief action with the Brest fleet on 22 August, engaging the Alexandre 80 in the French rear from her own position in the British van, and she was with a detachment of the Channel Fleet which entered Falmouth on 29 November, prior to going around to Plymouth where adverse winds drove her back into port at the end of the year.
On 4 January 1806 the Montagu arrived at Portsmouth from Plymouth, and three weeks later she was ordered to sail with other men-of-war in escort of the West India and Mediterranean convoys. On 3 May she arrived at Plymouth from the Channel Fleet to re-victual, whereupon she joined Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan’s force which was sent in chase of Rear-Admiral Jean-Baptiste Philibert Willaumez’ s squadron, which had broken out from Brest. That particular campaign ended with the French force’s dispersal in a hurricane on 18 August, and when the Montagu reached Plymouth at the end of September it was with a sprung main-mast. Having undergone repairs, she sailed to rejoin the Channel Fleet on 25 October, and in the second week of January 1807 she arrived at Plymouth after she had been damaged in winds off Lorient. She was then back at sea off Rochefort by the end of the month.
On 18 March 1807 Otway brought the Montagu back to Plymouth before going around to Portsmouth to fit out for a foreign station. After taking Rear-Admiral Albemarle Bertie around to Plymouth in May she departed for the Mediterranean, giving passage to Rear-Admiral George Martin and the diplomat Sir Arthur Paget, who was undertaking a mission to Constantinople. In July she sailed from Malta to the Dardanelles with Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood’s fleet, and at the end of November was with that force at Syracuse. During 1808 Otway co-operated with the Spanish patriots in Catalonia, being lauded by the citizens and the junta in Girona for his efforts in taking possession of the fortress at Rosas in July, thereby forcing the French to retreat inshore. He was with the fleet in the pursuit of Vice-Admiral Honoré Ganteaume’s force following its earlier breakout from Toulon on 7 February, and by the end of July was at Minorca. Shortly afterwards he joined the Malta 80, sailing from Gibraltar with Collingwood to blockade Toulon. After leaving that station on 22 August, the Malta sailed from Gibraltar on 5 September for Plymouth to arrive on the 28th of the month, whereupon she entered harbour to refit and Otway left her.
In January 1809 he was presented to the Queen at a levee, and in May was appointed to the newly commissioned Ajax 74 at Blackwall, being presented once more to the Queen at the beginning of June on the occasion of the celebration of the King’s birthday. The Ajax was still in the Thames at the end of July when she participated in a ceremony held in honour of the lord mayor, and on 29 August she arrived at Portsmouth to be appointed convoy to the Mediterranean. During the first days of October she departed in escort of the Halifax, Portugal and Mediterranean convoys, and upon reaching the latter station Otway commanded a squadron off Sardinia in the winter. Thereafter, he saw duty at the blockade of Toulon, being part of the Inshore Squadron and leading the line at Captain Hon. Henry Blackwood’s partial action with the French fleet on 20 July 1810 when his own Ajax brought the French Ajax 74 to action. On 13 December the Ajax was with Captain Thomas Rogers’ squadron off Palamos, Catalonia, when thirty three men were killed, eighty-nine wounded, and eighty-six men taken prisoner in Captain Francis Fane’s attempt to destroy a French convoy, and on 31 March 1811 she chased the French frigates Amélie 40 and the Adrienne 40, together with the store-ship Dromédaire 20 carrying ammunition for Corfu, capturing the latter off Porto-Ferrajo.
In June 1811, Otway transferred to the Cumberland 74 in place of Captain Hon. Philip Wodehouse, who had been appointed a naval commissioner, and with his health in need of restoration his ship left the fleet on 17 August for Portsmouth, arriving at the end of September and being taken into harbour. He appears to have remained out of employment for the next year and a half, during which period he was listed as arriving at Bath in February 1812, in November 1812, and again in March 1813.
Upon recovering his health, and having initially been due to join the Devonshire 74, Otway was reappointed to the Ajax at Plymouth in May 1813, and after leaving the Hamoaze for Cawsand Bay in mid-July, his command sailed out at the beginning of August to co-operate with the army at the siege of San Sebastien. She arrived at Portsmouth from the Channel Fleet on 15 February 1814, and on 17 March captured the French corvette Alcion 16 off the Isles of Scilly following a five-hour chase.
In June 1814 the Ajax took a troop convoy out to Quebec, and being unaware that he had been promoted rear-admiral on 14 June, Otway remained in Canada to prepare a flotilla to fight on Lake Champlain against the Americans. On 11 August it was reported that he had arrived at Montreal from Quebec aboard a steamboat, but it appears that news of his promotion must have filtered through, for by October the Ajax was back at Spithead where she was honoured with a visit from the Whig politician, Earl Spencer before Otway was obliged by his advancement to leave her.
With the wars against France and America drawing to a conclusion, Otway appears to have remained unemployed from the autumn of 1814 for the best part of the next four years. By the beginning of December that year he was at Bath, a visit was made to Cheltenham in August 1817, and he was back at Bath by November.
On 3 August 1818 he was appointed the commander-in-chief on the Scottish coast, sailing thither on the 22nd with his family, and with his flag aboard the Phaeton 38, Captain William Henry Dillon, this being thirty-three years after he had first joined that vessel. After remaining wind-bound for some days in the Downs, he eventually arrived at Leith in the first week of September. Through October, Captain Frederick Lewis Maitland was preparing the Vengeur 74 at Portsmouth for Otway’s flag, and after her arrival at the end of the year it was announced that Captain George Grey would take command of her, although by July 1819 she was back at Portsmouth under Maitland’s command. Meanwhile, Otway continued at Leith with his flag flying in August aboard the Wye 20, Captain George Wickens Willes, transferring in October to the Liffey 44, Captain Hon. Henry Duncan, and from November the Dover 32, Captain Arthur Batt Bingham. In July 1820 he temporarily shifted into the sloop Driver 18, Commander Charles Hope Reid, in order to visit various outposts on the Scottish coast, and he retained the station until 24 November, having been granted the freedom of Edinburgh in the previous month.
Entering another period of unemployment, Otway attended the King at a levee in February 1822, following which he proceeded to Bath, as he did again in October 1823 and June 1825. Otherwise he was regularly to be seen amongst the ‘society’ in Southampton.
On 8 June 1826 he was belatedly created a K.C.B., it being somewhat of an omission that he had not previously received an honour, and after turning down the East Indies station he was appointed the commander-in-chief in South America that month. Embarking the British ambassador to Brazil, the Hon. William Gordon, he sailed from Portsmouth on 9 August with his flag aboard the Ganges 84, Captain Samuel Hood Inglefield, and having reached Lisbon nine days later and then Tenerife on 27 September, he proceeded to Rio de Janeiro to arrive on 19 October. A few days afterwards he and the ambassador were introduced to the Emperor Dom Pedro. During December 1827 he visited the River Plate to consult with the governments in Buenos Aires and Montevideo regarding the piracy in that region before returning to Rio. In December 1828 he appointed his flag lieutenant, Robert Fitzroy, to the Beagle to the detriment of a harder working officer, this vessel later conveying Charles Darwin on his great voyage of natural discovery. During the latter part of his tenure Otway occasionally flew his flag aboard the Thetis 46, Captain Arthur Batt Bingham, and after returning to the Ganges he began his voyage home on 28 June 1829 to arrive at Portsmouth on 20 August, bringing with him the then ambassador to Brazil, Lord Ponsonby.
Once back in England Otway resumed his place in society, attending a levee in July 1830, being promoted vice-admiral on 22 July, appointed a groom of the bedchamber to King William IV on 23 December, and visiting the late emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro, at Clarendon Hotel in August 1831. He was created a baronet of Brighthelmstone, Sussex, on 15 September 1831, and in January 1837 he had a personal audience with the King. From 23 February he was the commander-in-chief at the Nore with his flag aboard the Howe 120, Captain Charles Paget, although he and his large family took a house in Sheerness, and he held this position until 27 July 1840.
On 14 September 1841 he was appointed a groom in waiting to Queen Victoria, he was further promoted admiral on 23 November, and was awarded the G.C.B. on 8 May 1845, prior to attending court with the Queen at the end of June.
Admiral Otway died suddenly at his residence in Hyde Park Gardens, London, on 12 May 1846. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
On 15 August 1801 he married Clementina Holloway, the daughter of Admiral John Holloway of Wells, Somerset, and amongst their five sons and seven daughters were two naval commanders who predeceased him, the eldest, Commander Robert Waller Otway, who was promoted to that rank on 1839, being killed in a fall from his horse in Hyde Park in May 1840, and Commander Charles Cooke Otway losing his life in command of the Victor 16, which foundered in a hurricane whilst voyaging from Vera Cruz to Halifax in 1842. Another son, Sir George Graham Otway, entered the Navy in 1828 and was posted captain in 1846, yet another, Sir Arthur John Otway, joined the army before becoming a Liberal MP, whilst his nephew, Robert Jocelyn Otway, joined the service in 1821 and was promoted commander in 1846. By October 1816 Otway was residing at Westwood Park near Southampton.
He earned a small fortune from his prizes during six year’s activity in the West Indies, largely because he was a favourite of Vice-Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, and it was said of him that during his career he had captured and destroyed more enemy ships than any of his contemporaries. His abilities were admired by all the senior officers of his day, in particular St. Vincent, Cornwallis and Nelson, as well as by his men, who appreciated him for his equilibrium. He was modest, active, thoughtful, courageous, disciplined, and a thorough seaman who was respected by his peers for his outstanding qualities. He often undertook boat missions if he thought them too dangerous, and even acted as a volunteer for other officers. A close friend of Captain William Henry Ricketts Jervis. he had a curious hatred of Hessian boots!