Spelman Swaine

1769-1848. He was born on 1 July 1769 at Lynn Regis, Norfolk, the second son of Spelman Swaine of Leverington near Wisbech, and of his wife, Dorothy Robertson.

Swaine joined the Navy in April 1782 aboard the Concorde 24, Captain Albemarle Bertie, serving in the Channel, and after following this officer to the Recovery 32 in October he was present at the Relief of Gibraltar on 18 October and the action with the Spanish fleet off Cape Spartel.

In 1783 he joined the Chatham-based guardship Carnatic 74, Captain Anthony James Pye Molloy, seeing further employment from 1785 in the Champion 24, Captain William Domett, which was based at Leith until the Dutch Armament of 1787. He was thereafter aboard the Nore-based guardship Sandwich 90, Captain Thomas Tonken, the Impregnable 98, Captain Thomas Pringle, and the Lowestoft 32, Captain Edmund Dod, seeing duty in the Channel and the Mediterranean.

Swaine was a masters’ mate aboard the Discovery during the Vancouver Expedition that left England in 1791

In 1790 he was appointed to the exploratory vessel Discovery, Captain Henry Roberts, whose voyage to the north-west coast of America was delayed by the Spanish Armament, during which period Swaine served aboard the Courageux 74, Captain Alan Gardner. Returning to the Discovery as a master’s mate, he participated in Captain George Vancouver’s voyage of exploration from 1791-5, becoming an acting-lieutenant and on one occasion saving the lives of his commander and Lieutenant Peter Puget when they were attacked by hostile natives. Upon returning to England he was commissioned lieutenant on 27 October 1795.

From the end of November 1795 Swaine served aboard the sloop Spitfire, Captain Amherst Morris, this officer being succeeded by Captain Michael Seymour in August 1796. The vessel enjoyed great success against the French coasters and privateers in the Channel for the next four years, taking over four hundred prisoners and vessels containing eighty-three guns, including the store ship Allegrée off Ushant on 12 January 1797. In August 1800 Captain Robert Keen succeeded to the command of the Spitfire, and on 4 May 1801 Swaine removed to the Princess Charlotte 38, Captain Hon. Francis Farrington Gardner, serving in the Channel and on the Irish station.

On 29 April 1802 he was promoted commander, and in June joined the Raven 18 at Portsmouth, taking troops to Jersey, being sent with despatches to various ports in the Mediterranean in August, and then joining Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson’s fleet. In October 1803 he led the Mediterranean fleet to an anchorage in Agincourt Sound amongst the notoriously difficult Maddalena Islands. Unfortunately he had the misfortune to lose the Raven in a difficult current near Mazari, Sicily, on 6 January 1804, her crew being rescued by a merchantman and the Kent 74, Captain John Stuart. Swaine was acquitted of blame for her loss at the subsequent court martial aboard the Kent under the presidency of Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton.

On 16 September 1808 he was appointed to the newly commissioned Helicon 10, serving in the Downs, and thereafter he commanded the sloop Philomel 16, taking despatches and senior Army officers out to the Iberian Peninsula.

Swaine was posted captain on 17 May 1810 and in the autumn was appointed to the Hind 28, although he had the misfortune to see her condemned before he could take her to sea. On 3 August 1811 he joined the Talbot 18, employed off Ireland, and on 4 December was in company with the Saldanha 36, Captain Hon. William Pakenham, when she was lost near Lough Swilly, Swaine’s coolness and clear head helping to save his own command. She was thereafter employed in convoy duty to Newfoundland and the West Indies before returning to serve on the Irish station.

On 28 April 1814 he transferred to the Statira 38 in place of Captain Hassard Stackpoole who had been slain in a duel, and at the beginning of November he took a convoy out to Bermuda from Portsmouth, giving passage to a number of senior military officers including Major-General Sir Edward Pakenham. Again he had the misfortune to lose his command, the Statira sinking within a half hour of striking an unknown rock off the Little Inagua near Cuba on 26 February 1815, but with her crew being taken off by other vessels in her convoy. After returning to Portsmouth on 5 May aboard the Asia 74 Captain Alexander Skene, Swaine was acquitted of any blame for her loss at his court-martial.

He did not see any further employment but in retirement became a magistrate in the Isle of Ely, and later the chief bailiff. He was promoted rear-admiral on 1 October 1846 and died at Wisbech Saint-Peters, Cambridgeshire, on 14 January 1848.

On 26 August 1806 at Stonehouse, Devon, Swaine married Sophia Anne Le Grice, the daughter of a clergyman from Bury St. Edmunds, and the couple had issue one son and three daughters. His son, Henry Spelman Swaine, drowned along with a fisherman in a river near Wisbech in July 1835 when their boat overset in a squall whilst accompanied by other boats on an excursion.

On several occasion Swaine’s coolness and calm demeanour in situations of stress was remarked upon by the men serving under him.