ADMIRAL SAUMAREZ (1757-1836)

 

Saumarez spacer Plaque of naval action
Plaque of Admiral Lord Saumarez      Action off West Coast of Guernsey, 8 June 1794.
Sir James Saumarez, H.M.S. Crescent, Druid and Euridice
Jean Breton, Pilot
St. Peter Port   Monument
Town Church, St. Peter Port   Monument to Admiral Saumarez in the Town Church

 

Introduction

Everyone has heard of Admiral Nelson, but I had heard only once of Saumarez until I visited Guernsey in May 2003. Saumarez was second in command to Nelson at the Battle of the Nile, was the victor in many important naval battles, was honoured by his country and lived to the age of 79. He is one of Guernsey's most famous sons and deserves to be better known in the rest of the United Kingdom. He was commemorated on Guernsey stamps in 1980.

There are memorials to James Saumarez at Castle Cornet in St. Peter Port. The square bronze plaques showing the admiral and one of his battles are now displayed on a wall. There are four plaques in all and they were formerly on a large obelisk in Delancey Park, Guernsey. In 1943, the plaques were removed and the obelisk was destroyed by German forces during their occupation of the island. The obelisk was believed to be a landmark for Allied Air Forces.

The second plaque commemorates an action in 1794 in which Saumarez encountered off Guernsey a superior French force as described in the biographical sketch below. A third plaque is inscribed "To James First Baron de Saumarez of Guernsey, G.C.B., K.B., D.C.L, Admiral of the Red and General of Marines, born 1757, died 1836.

The splendid memorial to Admiral Saumarez in the Town Church is high on the north wall of the nave. I could not read the lengthy inscription in the ambient light and have transcribed it by using an enlargement of a photograph taken by flash. My original pictures of the plaques and the memorial in the church have been adjusted for perspective to show what they would look like if viewed from directly in front. The church and castle are both well worth a visit and the church has one of the biggest collections of memorials to military men that I have seen. My favourite was to Captain Le Mesurier, the captain of a what is euphemistically called a "private warship". Guernsey's wealth in the 18th century was based on smuggling and piracy.

Family Background

In Guernsey there is Sausmarez Manor, which is spelt differently to the Admiral's name. The Sausmarez family is first mentioned in Guernsey in 1115 in connection with the consecration of a church. The Sausmarez family held the lordship of the manor until 1557 when George Sausmarez died without issue. The estate then passed to his sister Judith, who had married John Andrews, an Englishman from Northamptonshire, who had gone to Guernsey as as Lieutenant to the Governor the island. They had a son, John, who was known as John Andros, and he succeeded to the manor. John and five successors were Seigneurs of Sausmarez over the next two centuries. One of them, Sir Edmond Andros, was in 1674 the Bailiff and Lieutenant of Guernsey and also the Governor of the Colonies of New York, New England, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Plymouth and New Jersey. He left his estates in Guernsey to his nephew with the instruction that a new manor house should be built and this is the one, constructed between 1714 and 1718, that remains today. Charles Andros succeeded his father in 1746 but in 1748 sold the manor back to a cadet branch of the Sausmarez family.

Matthew Sausmarez (1685-1778) married Anne Durell, the daughter of a wealthy Jerseyman at St. Helier in Jersey on 1 January 1705. With the money she brought to the marriage, Matthew built a privateer. It is remarkable that while pursuing piracy at sea he had a career as an advocate. This couple had 11 children as shown in the pedigree in the appendix.

Matthew's eldest son, Jean or John was also an advocate. His second son, Philip, born in 1710, was the first of the family to serve in the Royal Navy. He was on Commodore Anson's trip to the Far East in H.M.S. Centurion in the 1740s. This was an expedition that was remarkable for two reasons - the great mortality from scurvy and the immense treasure brought back from the capture of a Spanish galleon off Manilla. Anson's share of the prize secured the fortune of his family in Staffordshire, allowing the building of the present Shugborough Hall, the family home of the late Lord Lichfield, the photographer. Philip Sausmarez was subsequently killed in a naval action with the French on 4 October 1747. His prize money helped the family buy back the manor from Charles Andros. There is a memorial to him in Westminster Abbey. Philip's brother, Thomas, was a naval captain from 1748. He captured the French vessel, Belliqeux, in the Bristol Channel and commanded her in the West Indies in 1861. He died in 1766.

It was Matthew's fifth son, also Matthew, born in 1717, who was the father of Admiral James Saumarez.

Brief Biography of Admiral Saumarez

James Saumarez was the second son of Matthew Saumarez (1717-1778) and his wife, Carteret nee Le Marchant . He entered the navy in 1770 as a 13 year old midshipman and served five years in the Mediterranean. The British navy was involved in protecting national interests in the Eastern Mediterranean during the war between Russia and Turkey. Although he passed the requirements for a lieutenancy he was not promoted immediately. In October 1775, he sailed to North America as a master's mate aboard H.M.S. Bristol a ship of 50 guns, the flagship for the attack on Charleston. He was involved in the disastrous attack on Fort Sullivan on 28 July 1776. He was promoted to Lieutenant by Sir Peter Parker and his first command was the schooner H.M.S. Spitfire in February of 1778. The ship was eventually burned at Rhode Island to prevent it from being captured. From 1778 to 1781 he served in H.M.S. Victory, which was the Channel Flagship. He served in H.M.S. Fortitude under Sir Hyde Parker and was involved in the action off the Dogger Bank on 5 August 1781. On that occasion he was promoted to the post of Commander.

On 7 February 1782 he was given command of H.M.S. Russell, a ship of 74 guns with the rank of Post Captain. In the West Indies he was involved in a victorious action under Sir George Rodney on 12 April 1782, involving the French flagship, Ville de Paris. Following the Peace of Versailles in 1783, Saumarez spent most of his time on half pay in Guernsey until the outbreak of war with the French in 1793. He then was given command of H.M.S. Crescent and he captured a French frigate, La Renunion, of 36 guns, off Cherbourg. For this action he was knighted. In December of that year he commanded a squadron of five ships accompany ten transports of Catholic refugees from France.

In 1794, the French planned to capture the Channel Islands and stop the privateers based there from harrying their trade. This resulted in a naval action on 8 June 1784 as depicted in one of the memorial plaques. Sir James Saumarez had sailed from Plymouth with three frigates, H.M.S. Crescent, H.M.S. Druid and H.M.S. Eurydice and five smaller vessels to reconnoitre the French coast. Off the North West Coast of Guernsey they encountered two French ships of the line and three frigates. Saumarez ordered the slowest ship, H.M.S. Eurydice into port to avoid capture and then lured the ships of the line into range of shore based guns. He then turned across the line of the French ships and appeared to be about to beach his ship in Vazon Bay. However, with the aid of his Guernsey pilot, Jean Breton, he sailed through a narrow passage between the rocks and escaped. Saumarez is reputed to have asked Breton how he knew the exact location of the passage. Breton replied that if Saumarez looked ashore he would see their respective houses on Guernsey in a direct line and this was his marker.

In 1795, Saumarez was captain of the Orion of 74 guns in Lord Bridport's victory off Cape La Rogue, and took a prominent part in that of Sir John Jervis off Cape St. Vincent on 14th February 1797. He was Nelson's second in command at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Saumarez was promoted to the post of Rear Admiral on 1 January 1801 and later that year was created a baronet. He was then in command of a squadron. Napoleon sent a squadron including three battleships from Toulon to lift the blockade of Cadiz. On 6 July Saumarez attacked then in Algeciras Bay with six battleships but sustained heavy damage from the shore batteries. He lost one ship and retired to Gibraltar to make repairs. The French were reinforced by Spanish ships. Saumarez was able to attack again on 17 July, destroyed two ships of the line, captured a third and chased the Franco-Spanish squadron back into Cadiz. After this victory, Saumarez was made a Knight of the Bath and given the freedom of the city of London with a sword of honour, a pension of £1,200, and votes of thanks from both houses of Parliament. This was the fifth time that he had been thanked by Parliament.

In 1803 he was given command of Guernsey waters with his headquarters at St. Peter Port. There was a brief respite during the Peace of Amiens but soon Britain was a war again with France. Saumarez was involved in the blockade of Brest and destroyed French gunboats which were to sail to Boulogne to take part in the invasion of England. In 1806 he was promoted to Vice Admiral and given the command of the Channel Fleet.

In March 1808, Admiral Saumarez became Commander in Chief of the Baltic Fleet and went to support the Swedes against the Danes and Russians. Later, when Russia became an ally against Napoleon, he ensured that Britain had sea communication to Russia while denying it to the French. The Crown Prince of Sweden presented him with a ceremonial sword valued at £2,000. In 1813, he was made a full admiral and was in command at Plymouth from 1824 until his retirement in 1827. He was elevated to the peerage in 1831 and died at Sausmarez Park in 1836. He is buried at Castel Church Cemetery in Guernsey.

Admiral Saumarez had a brother Richard (1764-1835) who was a surgeon and a second brother, Sir Thomas (1760-1845) who served in North America during the American Revolutionary War. He became President and Commander in Chief of New Brunswick in 1813 and was promoted to the rank of General in 1838.

Transcript of the Memorial in the Town Church

Sacred to the Memory of the Right Honble JAMES SAUMAREZ, LORD DE SAUMAREZ,

Admiral of the Red, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Order of the Sword of Sweden, General of Marines, an Elder Brother of the Trinity House, a Baronet and D.C.L. of the University of Oxford.

Born March 1757, he entered the Naval Service in 1770, was made Lieutenant 1776, by Sir Peter Parker after the
memorable attack on Fort Sullivan, served in that rank in the Fortitude bearing the flag of Sir Hyde Parker in the
action of the Dogger Bank 5 August 1781, and on that occasion was made a Commander, the 7th February following
he obtained the command of the Russell of 74 guns with the rank of Post Captain, and in that ship bore a distinguished
share in Sir George Rodney's victory of 12 April 1782. At the commencement of the war with France in 1793,
he captured in the Crescent frigate off Cherbourg the French frigate La Reunion.
In June 1794 he beat off by skill and consummate bravery a French squadron of very superior force
on the shores of this island, and in sight of his admiring countrymen.
In 1795 he was captain of the Orion of 74 guns in Lord Bridport's victory off Cape La Rogue,
and took a prominent part in that of Sir John Jervis off Cape St. Vincent 14th February 1797.
The handbook on Sausmarez Manor does not mention Admiral Saumarez which is very surprising in view of his fame if he was indeed related to the family. It is the article in the Atlantic Monthly (see sources) which states that the Philip Sausmarez who accompanied Anson was the uncle of James Saumarez, who was one of six brothers.
He was made a Rear Admiral 1st January 1801 and being entrusted with the command of a separate squadron
He had on the 6 July a severe engagement with a detachment of French ships and batteries in the Bay of Algeceras,
and refitting with unparalleled expedition he again on the 17th attacked the enemy
The handbook on Sausmarez Manor does not mention Admiral Saumarez which is very surprising in view of his fame if he was indeed related to the family. It is the article in the Atlantic Monthly (see sources) which states that the Philip Sausmarez who accompanied Anson was the uncle of James Saumarez, who was one of six brothers.
For this achievement he received the thanks of Parliament, being the fifth time that honour had been conferred upon him
In 1803 he was appointed to command the Naval force stationed for the protection of the Channel Islands
And in December 1806, he was specially raised to the rank of Vice Admiral to enable him to command the Channel Fleet.
In the absence of Earl St. Vincent, in 1808 he hoisted his flag as Commander in Chief of the Baltic Fleet
Which appointment he held for five years; his firm but conciliatory measures at this crisis were mainly instrumental in
detaching the Northern Powers from the domination of France, and thus materially conduced to the restoration of peace.
He held the command at Plymouth from 1824 to 1827, and in 1831 was created a peer of the United Kingdom,
To a loftiness of character, which indicated him born for command was united a benignity of spirit and urbanity of demeanour
which ensured him universal love, esteem, and veneration, both in the public and private relations of life,
His zeal for the welfare of his country was surpassed only by devotion to his God, he exhibited in his whole life
the example of an earnest Christian striving to further the will of his divine master.
Great as his deeds were in life, his greatest triumph was reserved for the last conflict, in which his redeemer taught
and enabled him to conquer, full of years and full of honor, and in the blessed hope of immortal glory
He resigned his spirit into the hands of his God and Saviour October 9th 1836 in the 80th year of his age.

He married, October 27th 1788, Martha, only child of Thomas Le Marchant, Esqre and Mary Dobree his wife, by whom he had eight children
Four only survive, who with their beloved mother, have erected this monument to his revered memory.

Appendix: Details of the Family Tree, adapted from a pedigree on the Family Search Site.

The surname is given as Saumarez, Sausmarez or De Saumarez. The names of Admiral James Saumarez and his uncle Philip are emboldened.

Sources:

1. The monument in the Town Church at St. Peter Port.

2. Sausmarez Manor, St. Martin's, Guernsey. A booklet available at the house, which is open to the public. This handbook does not mention Admiral Saumarez which is very surprising in view of his fame. The article in the Atlantic Monthly states that the Philip Sausmarez who accompanied Anson was the uncle of James Saumarez and that James was one of six brothers. Support for this is given in a family tree shown in FamilySearch from which details are given in the text.

3. Atlantic Monthly, Volume 71, Issue 427, May 1893, pages 605 to 619. This article on Admiral Saumarez requires Adobe Acrobat to read. The article appears to have been scanned from the original printed version. It is in narrow newspaper style columns and has a number of misprints. It is the most comprehensive account of the life of Admiral Saumarez that I have found on the World Wide Web but does not quote any sources.

4. Guernsey People, by L. James Marr, Phillimore 1984, ISBN 0 85033 529 9, accessed in the public library in St. Peter Port.

5. England under the Hanoverians, by C. Grant Robertson, 10th edition, published by Methuen, London, 1930.

6. Concise Dictionary of National Biography, complete to 1921, O.U.P., London, 1930. This source uses the same spelling of Saumarez for all the entries including Philip who sailed with Anson and Admiral James Saumarez.

7. Family Search Site.

8.  I am grateful to Graeme Cox, Constable of Castel Parish in Guernsey, for pointing out that Admiral de Saumarez was not buried at St. Peter Port Church, although the presence of the memorial there leads one to assume so.  He was buried at Castel Church cemetery in Guernsey.  This is the parish in which Sausmarez Park lies.  Recently, a service was held in the church commemorating his life in the presence of the Governor and Bailiff, along with various Island and Castel Parish officials. After some hymns, there were readings about his life followed by a procession to the tomb where prayers were said, and candles and wreaths were placed.

Links:

H.M.S. Victory home page.

Naval History by William James, 1793 to 1827.

A new book on Admiral Saumarez has been published.  It is Admiral Saumarez versus Napoleon 1807-1812, by Dr. Tim Voelcker.  Details can be found on his site

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