William O’Brien Drury
1754-1811. Believed to have been born in Chadlington, Oxfordshire, he was the son of Edward Drury of Cloyne, Cork, Ireland, and of his wife, Ann Maule.
Having been commissioned lieutenant on 28 November 1778, Drury was promoted commander on 19 February 1781 and appointed to the sloop Tickler 12 in the Leeward Islands by Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney. He left her on 25 July 1782 to return to England as a passenger aboard the French prize Hector 74, which formed part of Rear-Admiral Thomas Graves’s homeward-bound convoy that was ravaged by the Central Atlantic Hurricane in September. The Hector foundered on the Newfoundland Banks, but Drury was amongst the one hundred and forty survivors from the crew of two hundred and twenty men who were taken off by the Dartmouth-based privateer Hawke, after that vessel had fortuitously arrived on the scene. By 23 November he was in London confirming the news of the disaster.
He was posted captain on 18 January 1783 to the Carnatic 74 for purposes of rank only, but does not appear to have seen any further employment until 12 December 1789, when he was appointed to the post ship Squirrel 24, arriving off Cork in the early summer of 1790. Continuing to operate on that station, during October the Squirrel sailed for England with the commander-in-chief of the Army in Ireland, Lieutenant-General Sir William Augustus Pitt. In January 1791 she was at Plymouth when a storm forced her around to Torbay, and in June, by which time the Russian Armament was underway, she sailed from Portsmouth on the Impress Service to reach Plymouth on the 11th with pressed seamen. In June 1792 she was in Portsmouth Harbour, during the following month she was at Spithead, and in December she intercepted four vessels laden with corn which had sailed from Ireland to provision the French Army. Seeing further service on the Irish station, in February 1793 she sailed up the coast in the preventative service.
On 15 March 1793, following the commencement of the French Revolutionary War, the Squirrel arrived at Portsmouth from Dublin with a hundred Irish seamen for the fleet, and on 28 March she departed Plymouth with troops for the defence of Jersey, a mission she repeated at the end of April. She was next sent out to Africa to protect the slave trade, and in September she arrived at Cork from the coast of Africa, having captured two French ships but been obliged to abandon them after coming under fire from the Portuguese on Prince’s Island. During the passage home, her crew was constrained to the meagre rations of an ounce of bread and a cup of water a day.
On 16 November 1793 Drury was appointed to the Trusty 50, which in April 1794 was dispatched to the Cork station. She was in Plymouth Sound during May, but by June was at Dublin where her crew implemented a heavy press of seamen. Days later she sailed out with a convoy. In July she was cruising to the west of the Scilly Isles, and on 25 August she arrived at Plymouth from Ireland with Vice-Admiral Robert Kingsmill’s squadron in escort of the incoming East India convoy. Despatched to attend the Royal Family on its annual holiday at Weymouth, an amusing incident occurred on 14 September when Captain Sir James Saumarez and four frigates under his command appeared off Weymouth and failed to answer the Trusty’s signals. A panic broke out amongst the royal flunkies, who suspecting a French plot to kidnap the King, gave orders for the coaches for London to be prepared and for the royal baggage to be packed. Fortunately, by that evening Saumarez’ ships had been identified and a relieved monarch was able to resume his holiday.
The Trusty sailed from Portsmouth on 21 October 1794 with a convoy of troops, and after a brief deviation to Plymouth to avoid rough weather, she escorted them for part of their voyage out to the West Indies. By mid-February 1795 she was with the Channel Fleet, and having been sent to Gibraltar with a convoy of twenty-four transports, she brought a convoy home from Cadiz to arrive at Spithead in May.
It June 1795 it was announced that Drury was to take command of the Powerful 74 in the Channel Fleet, and he briefly hoisted Vice-Admiral John Colpoys’ flag shortly after this ship left Portsmouth Harbour. His command also briefly flew Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis’ flag, and on 23 October she joined Vice-Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis’ squadron off St. Helens as that force was about to put to sea. The squadron was back at Portsmouth by 20 December, and over the winter the Powerful was with the fleet at Spithead before she received orders in February 1796 to cruise in the North Sea. By the beginning of August she was back at Portsmouth.
In September 1796 the Powerful went out of Portsmouth Harbour for Spithead, and after a short period in which it appears that Captain Alexander Ball acted for Drury, she saw service with Admiral Colpoys’ squadron. In January 1797 she sailed with a squadron from Cork under the orders of Vice-Admiral Kingsmill, and after arriving at Plymouth she was refitted in the port during May before returning to serve with the Channel Fleet off Brest.
In September 1797 the Powerful was ordered to transfer to the North Sea Fleet, and on 11 October Drury captained her at the Battle of Camperdown, losing ten men killed and seventy-eight wounded. Prior to the action, he lambasted his men as a ‘set of damned blackguard mutinous rascals’ and demanded that they demonstrate their loyalty by defeating their immediate Dutch opponent within forty minutes. Allegedly, the Dutchman was defeated in twenty minutes. At the end of the action Drury shook hands with the captains of the forecastle and declared that the question of their loyalty would ‘never be referred to again’. He subsequently participated in the Service of Thanksgiving for the Naval victories at St. Pauls Cathedral in December.
A further refit for the Powerful at Plymouth followed in February 1798, and she went out to the Mediterranean in June, serving off Cadiz with the bulk of Admiral the Earl of St. Vincent’s fleet. Following the Brest Fleet’s breakout on 25 April 1799, she was detached from Vice-Admiral Lord Keith on 8 June to join Rear-Admiral Lord Nelson off the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Drury went home in the latter part of 1799 in bad health, and he appears to have remained unemployed for the next three years.
In October 1802, during the short period of peace between the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, he joined the Neptune 98 in Portsmouth Harbour, prior to flying the flag of the local commander-in-chief, Admiral Mark Milbanke, from the beginning of November at Spithead. Sadly, his command lost four men and two boys drowned when their boat overset off Block House Point, Gosport, in January 1803. On 25 March the Neptune hoisted the flag of Admiral Lord Gardner, who had arrived at Portsmouth to prepare the fleet for the renewal of hostilities with France, before dropping down to St. Helens at the end of the month and sailing for Plymouth Sound shortly afterwards. She then went around to Torbay with Rear-Admiral George Campbell’s flag as part of the Channel Fleet, but she was back at Plymouth to refit in July, where she remained for some time whilst having her timbers examined. During this period her crew were either distributed amongst other ships of the fleet or were placed in hulks, and thus when she was eventually ready for sea at the end of the year following manning difficulties it was with a much changed crew. Thereafter, she served with the Channel Fleet into the New Year, although having lost her foretopmast in a storm off Brest on 19 January 1804 she was obliged to return to Plymouth for a fortnight.
Drury was promoted rear-admiral on 23 April 1804, and he relinquished the command of the Neptune upon her arrival at Plymouth on 12 May. He was appointed to command the Irish Sea Fencibles in October, with expectations that he would leave London for Dublin at the end of the month; however, he then received instructions in December to assume the role of second-in-command of the Irish station to Lord Gardner. Raising his flag aboard the Princess of Orange 74, Captain Thomas Rogers, he left Portsmouth for Cork in the third week of that month.
In early 1805 Drury sailed from Beerhaven Bay with four sail of the line following reports that an enemy fleet was off the coast, but he was back by early February. During March he assumed command of the ships at Cork when Lord Gardner was summoned to temporarily take over the Channel Fleet, and he hoisted his flag aboard the Trent 32, Commander Walter Grossett. Throughout the early summer he had to remain on guard when it was believed that the allied fleet might attempt an invasion, and upon Gardner’s return at the beginning of October he resumed his responsibilities as second-in-command.
In August 1807 he was appointed to an East Indies command in succession to the late Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Troubridge, with instructions to second Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew prior to taking over from him as commander-in-chief. After being presented to the King, he raised his flag at Portsmouth on 5 September aboard the Monmouth 64, Captain Edward Durnford King, but was quickly recalled to the Admiralty in London for fresh instructions after the arrival of the East India convoy in the Downs. He was back at Portsmouth by the 14th of the month, and his flagship sailed on the next afternoon with the East India convoy. They were off the Cape in mid-December and anchored off Tranquebar, the modern-day Tarangambadi, on 13 February 1808 with eight merchantmen in company. Four days later, Drury reached Madras where he transferred to the Russell 74, Captain Thomas Gordon Caulfield, and after delivering a convoy to Calcutta he returned to Madras on 8 June.
Whilst still subordinate to Pellew, he was sent to Macao in 1808 with two frigates to protect British interests and subdue the threat of piracy after the Portuguese colony had fallen to the French. Arriving in September, he found his hands somewhat tied by the conflicting instructions he had to obey from the diplomats and merchants who accompanied the mission. After taking Macao he failed to intimidate the local Chinese into subservience, and with the Portuguese showing no inclination to help, he was forced to back down in the face of civilian aggression.
After returning to Penang on 3 January 1809, Drury proceeded to Madras where he arrived on 13 February to assume command of the East Indian station from Sir Edward Pellew. At the end of May he departed Madras on a cruise with a small squadron, and on 10 September he was back at that port with his flag aboard the Modeste 36, Captain George Elliott. He subsequently arrived at Bombay with his flag aboard the Russell on 23 November, and during the winter dispatched an expedition led by Captain John Wainwright of the Chiffone 32 against a pirate nest in the Persian Gulf that saw the destruction of eighty vessels, together with the base, Pasal Khyma.
Drury was back at Madras towards the end of January 1810, from where he despatched a force under Captain Edward Tucker to take Amboyna. When this was effected on 17 February, he sent another squadron under the command of Captain Christopher Cole to strengthen the British garrison at Amboyna, and if possible to capture the Spice Islands, which Cole achieved spectacularly on 9 August. Meanwhile, at the end of June, Drury had returned to Madras with his flag aboard the Bucephalus 32, Captain Charles Pelly, having plotted a campaign against the French Indian Ocean islands, which was to begin in July. Most controversially, the commander-in-chief at the Cape, Vice-Admiral Albemarle Bertie, arrived unexpectedly to claim the spoils of the eventual success of that campaign, leaving Drury ‘insulted and injured’, and resulting in Bertie’s recall to England. Drury left the expeditionary force at the island of Rodrigues on 8 November to return to Madras aboard the Phaeton 38, Captain Fleetwood Pellew, and here he shifted into the Minden 74, Captain Edward Wallis Hoare.
Drury had been advanced to vice-admiral on 31 July 1810, but following several months of ill-health he died at Madras on 6 March 1811 after a twenty-four hour illness described as ‘dysentery’. At the time of his death, he had been in the process of organising an expedition to Java, which resulted in it’s capture on 18 September. He was buried at St. Mary’s Church in Madras.
In 1783 Drury married Letitia Preston Vallencey, the daughter of a general, and he is believed to have fathered seven daughters and four sons. One of his sons, Commander William Hamilton Drury, died of fever in Jamaica on 31 October 1805 when commanding the Drake 16.
During his period of command in the East Indies, Drury showed little inclination to protect British trade, preferring instead to be active in attacking enemy territories. He brimmed over with self-importance, a trait not abnormal amongst senior naval officers, and considered himself to be the senior government official in India. On one occasion in the winter of 1809/10, a toast to him at a dinner in Ceylon was treated with some disrespect until Captain Fleetwood Pellew of the Phaeton intervened, but it led to Drury challenging the governor of Prince of Wales Island to a duel. A recent historian has described his ‘immaturity and ineptitude’ and the fact that as commander-in-chief in the East Indies he was ‘undiplomatic and often out of his depth’.