Admiral Sir Erasmus Gower (1742-1814)

Associated People A - B

Listed alphabetically by Surname

Agassiz, Captain James John Charles RN (1772-1858).

Commander 29 April 1802. Retired captain 10 September 1840. Gallant while in command of HMS Hound in 1801 off the coast of Estaples, when he sent fire ships in amongst the French fleet. He was praised in despatches by Admiral Lord Nelson 1 Nelson. The Dispatches and Letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, Vol. 4, 477 . Served under Gower in Newfoundland in HMS Rattler.

Atkins, Captain David RN (? -1811).

Midshipman under Gower in HMS Edgar 1780-1. Acting 6th lieutenant in Edgar from 7th July 1781 to 1st May 1782. As 3rd lieutenant with Gower in HMS Lion 1792-4 2 Commission dated 1st May, 1792. TNA - ADM 6-24. . John Barrow later wrote that Atkins was a navigator of the highest order, showing skill in lunar observations way beyond his years during the voyage of HMS Lion. Again with Gower, as first lieutenant in Triumph, from 27th November 1794. Promoted captain on 29th May 1798. Flag captain to Gower in HMS Princess Royal 1801. In 1805 Captain Atkins commanded the frigate Seine, (36), in the West Indies and commanded HMS Defence, (74), in the massive Walcheren Expedition in 1809.

Still in Defence, on 24th December, 1811, David Atkins died when the ship was wrecked off the coast of Jutland. There are two conflicting accounts of his death. One, published by Brenton 3 Brenton. Naval History of Great Britain . in 1837, stated that HMS St. George, with the flag of Rear-Admiral Robert Carthew Reynolds, had run ashore. It was claimed that Atkins, when this was reported to him, asked if the admiral had made the signal to part company and hearing that he had not, replied: “I will never desert my Admiral in the hour of danger and distress.” Defence is then said to have run aground and seas began to break over her, quickly breaking her up. A total of 593 men were lost out of the full complement of 597. Captain Atkins’ body was buried by the Danes with full military honours.

The Annual Register (Vol 54), however, states that HMS Defence was the first ship to run aground and that HMS St George (flagship) immediately let go its anchor but that the ship swung around on her cable and also went aground as a result. This puts a completely different slant on the more widely told story that Atkins lost his ship by blindly following his admiral. The Gentleman’s Magazine 1812 also relates the story as Defence being first to run aground. These articles were based on 'letters from Denmark' dated a few days after the disaster and tend to make me believe that Defence was actually sounding ahead of the flagship which was under jury rig. Either way, Atkins obeyed the signals from his admiral and it cost hundreds of lives. HMS St George was also destroyed, with the loss of 838 lives, including Rear-admiral Reynolds.

With our hazy view through hindsight we might conclude that, if Captain Atkins did follow the signals of the flag ship into the shallows, he might have been better served to have abandoned his admiral, thereby saving his own battle ship and the lives of his men. This was not a popularly held view in the early 19th century and any decision to proceed in accordance with signals from the admiral, although tragic in outcome, was seen to have come from the highest level of courage and honour and was to be applauded. It may be difficult, today, to understand such sentiments, but they are a very clear indication of the part honour and obedience to orders played in the navy of Gower’s day. Captain David Atkins would have been a loss which Sir Erasmus felt intensely.

Benson, Lieutenant-General George (? -1814).

Soldier. Gower (in a letter to Philip Carteret junior c. 1812) mentioned “General Benson has long been ill and is to be with me in a few days for the change of air”. This indicates a lasting friendship which I had not earlier suspected. Benson was senior army officer in Macartney’s embassy, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. One source says he was a cousin to Lord Macartney. He was certainly provided for in Lord Macartney’s will. Unfortunately I have been unable to discover more about his life and career, except that he was promoted to lieutenant 1782, captain 1785, major 1788, lieutenant-colonel 1792 and major-general in 1801. Died 1814, at Bath. His will was proven 20th May, 1814. Survived by his widow, Harriot, daughter Caroline Lodder and two juvenile daughters, Elizabeth and Amelia.

Bonham, Thomas (c.1755-1826)

A close friend of Gower. Probably an army officer (cornet 4th regiment of Dragoons 1774, lieutenant 1776). The brothers Henry and Thomas Bonham, who lived in Castle House, Petersfield, Hampshire, were great supporters and organisers of cricket at Hambledon. In fact, according to cricket archives, Henry Bonham opened the batting for England against Surrey in a match in October, 1778. It is probable that Gower’s lasting friendship with Thomas Bonham began with their mutual membership of the Hambledon Cricket Club. In 1784 Thomas Bonham was noted as a Steward of the Winchester races. In 1801 he was chosen as an alderman of the corporation of the borough of Portsmouth.

Gower sent Thomas Bonham a copy of his book, An Account of the loss of His Majesty's Ship Swift ..., for review in about 1804 4 See Bates, Champion of the Quarterdeck: Admiral Sir Erasmus Gower (1742-1814), Chapter The Channel Fleet. This scarce copy of Gower’s book is now held in the archives of the Hampshire Record Office. . Thomas Bonham continued to live at the house in the Market Square, later known as Castle House, after his brother Henry died in1800. The two childless brothers had considerable land holdings in Buriton, West Meon and Petersfield. Thomas Bonham died in 1826 and is buried at East Meon cemetery. He left his estates to his cousin, John Carter II, who assumed the name Bonham-Carter (ancestor of actress Helena Bonham-Carter).

Boyd, Captain John RN (? -1762)

Passed as lieutenant 15th February 1745 5 Chamberlayne. Magnae Britanniae notitia.... Book III, 161. . As first lieutenant, he brought HMS Enterprize home after John Donkley (qv) died at sea in 1758. This, by default, made him directly responsible for the young Erasmus Gower until they reached England. In June 1761 he was acting captain in HMS Penzance (44) in the attack on Dominica under Commodore Sir James Douglas. John Boyd was made post captain on 24th September 1761 and little else has been found so far regarding him. He died in the West Indies in 1762. 6 Beatson. A Political Index to the Histories of Great Britain & Ireland..., 337

Boyles, Vice-Admiral Charles RN (1756-1816).

See Bates, Champion of the Quarterdeck: Admiral Sir Erasmus Gower (1742-1814), Appendix A - Associated People. A lifelong friend of Gower and mutual friend of Lord Nelson.

Boyles, Reverend Charles Gower (c.1793/6-1845).

See Bates, Champion of the Quarterdeck: Admiral Sir Erasmus Gower (1742-1814), Appendix A - Associated People. Godson of Gower.

Brine, Admiral James RN (? -1814).

Lieutenant Brine commanded the Prince Frederick store ship under Samuel Wallis (qv), bound to the Falklands to relieve the garrison there. He then returned directly to England while Wallis and Carteret continued their circumnavigation 7 See Bates, Champion of the Quarterdeck: Admiral Sir Erasmus Gower (1742-1814), Chapter Swallow & Dolphin. . He was promoted to post captain on 30th December 1779 (HMS Alcmene).

James Brine married Jane Knight on 7th September 1767 in Blandford St. Mary, Dorchester. They lived in the Down House which they leased from Sir Thomas Pitt. They had one son, Augustus, in 1769. Jane died in Blandford St. Mary, less than a year later, on 28th August 1770. At thirteen, Augustus was painted by William Singleton Copley. The painting, titled “Midshipman Brine” is held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. Augustus rose to the rank of rear admiral in the Royal Navy and died in 1840.

Captain Brine commanded HMS Belliqueux, (64), at the battle of the Chesapeake in September 1781. His son, Augustus, aged thirteen, was taken on board Belliqueux, as a midshipman the following year.

James Brine married, secondly, Katherine [?] and had James (1784), George (1785), John (1787) and John II (1788). Promoted to rear-admiral of the white in 1799, vice-admiral of the red,1805, and admiral of the white in 1810, he died in 1814.

Bromley, Vice-admiral Sir Robert Howe 3rd Bt (1778-1857).

Born in East Stoke, Nottinghamshire, the son of Sir George Pauncote-Bromley, 2nd Bt. and Hon. Esther Curzon. He married Anne, daughter of Daniel Wilson and Sarah Harper, on 8th June 1812. Robert Howe Bromley entered the navy in 1791. He served under Gower as captain's servant in HMS Lion and midshipman in HMS Triumph. He commanded HM Sloop Inspector, (16), in 1801 and was made post captain in 1802. He distinguished himself in HMS Champion,(24), in an action against a French flotilla in 1805, losing 2 men killed and 3 wounded. He then commanded the frigates Solebay, (32), and Statira, (38). Bromley succeeded to the title of 3rd Baronet Smith, of East Stoke, co. Nottingham on 17th August 1808. He held the office of Sheriff of Nottinghamshire from 1816 to 1817. He gained the rank of rear-admiral of the blue on 10th January 1837, of the red in 1848, vice-admiral of the blue in 1851 and vice-admiral of the white in 1854. By his wife, Anne, he had 12 children. He died on 8th July 1857 aged 78 in East Stoke, Nottinghamshire.


More information to come.

Burslem, Captain Francis RN (1723-1801)

Born 15th January 1723, son of James Burslem and Elizabeth (nee Godolphin). Appointed lieutenant on 17th September 1743, served as lieutenant in HMS Lark from 30th June 1744 to 8th June 1746. Was lieutenant in HMS Rye, 1755, employed recruiting in Ireland. Appointed commander on 24th June 1757 and post captain on 4th October 1759 when he commissioned HMS Coventry. In Coventry (with Gower as a captain’s servant), Burslem played an important role in the battle of Quiberon Bay under Hawke in 1759. He resigned in 1760.

Captain Burslem was a complex character, little understood by his contemporaries. His surgeon in HMS Coventry, Patrick Renney, gave an insight into how he was perceived 8 Long, W. H.(Ed.) Naval Yarns... 69-85 Described as a man of 'easy temper and very humane disposition', Burslem was immediately after accused of allowing 'his sailors very great indulgences, especially in a harbour' which caused a 'great relaxation in naval discipline'.

In 1760, Captain Burslem left his ship while in Plymouth and was missing for some time. As he was known to have been 'subject to religious melancholy', his officers eventually found him at Exeter cathedral and followed him to a cheap lodging. Despite their efforts he could not be persuaded to re-join the ship and he effectively resigned from the navy at that time, although he was carried on navy lists as a superannuated officer for many years.

According to Renney, the main reason Burslem was disgruntled was because of how he had reacted to the escape of two French ships he had attempted to apprehend. Burslem had successfully pursued two much larger French frigates over night and come close to them in the morning. He then discussed their strength with his officers and asked for their consensus on whether to attack or not. He was dissuaded from any further pursuit and the French ships escaped into Basque Road. Soon after Coventry returned to Plymouth, a newspaper reported that two French Indiamen had arrived in Basque Road at about the same time Burslem had failed to attack the two French frigates and Burslem continued to believe that he had failed in his duty to attack. In his own words, he left the ship in the command of Captain Ogle 'I being much out of order' 9 TNA - ADM 51/212

'This made so deep an impression on the mind of a man naturally brave, but too easily listening to the suggestions of others; for through a mistaken humanity a great relaxation of discipline prevailed, so that, in fact, we were no better than a privateer, where everyone gives an opinion, where little subordination prevails, and where the maxim is "Hail fellow well met”' 10 Long, W. H.(Ed.) Naval Yarns... 85.

Captain Burslem is known to have had several children, the eldest of whom was possibly Elizabeth Godolphin Burslem, who died unmarried in Youghal, Ireland, in 1846 11 Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, Friday, March 20, 1846. Captain Francis Burslem died at Packington, Stafford, on 13th December 1801. His will, proved on 21st May 1802, was signed on 29th July 1789 by “Francis Burslem, Captain of His Majesty's Navy of Youghall, County Cork" 12 TNA. Prob/11/1374. He left his widow, Mary, as sole executrix and named five children: Elizabeth, James, Thomas, Frances and Margaret (Pegg) as beneficiaries. Mary Burslem died at Bath, Somersetshire, in 1820.