The Battle Of Camperdown

The mutiny at Spithead found the British ministry intent upon blocking

up the Dutch fleet in the Texel and Admiral Duncan appointed to the

duty. The pacific suppression of that formidable rising left the

government free to pursue their policy and Admiral Duncan to carry out

his instructions. Early in June, however, the admiral found himself

deserted by the Agamemnon, the Leopard, the Ardent, and the Isis

men-of-war and
the Ranger sloop, which left him and joined in the

mutiny of the Nore on the 6th.

When the admiral found himself deserted by so important a section of his

fleet, he called his own ship's crew together and addressed them in the

following speech:--

"MY LADS,--I once more call you together with a sorrowful heart from

what I have lately seen, the disaffection of the fleet. I call it

disaffection, for the crews have no grievances. To be deserted by my

fleet in the face of an enemy is a disgrace which, I believe, never

before happened to a British admiral; nor could I have supposed it

possible. My greatest comfort under God is that I have been supported by

the officers, seamen, and marines of this ship; for which, with a heart

overflowing with gratitude, I request you to accept my sincere thanks. I

flatter myself much good may result from your example, by bringing those

deluded people to a sense of their duty, which they owe, not only to

their king and country, but to themselves.

"The British navy has ever been the support of that liberty which has

been handed down to us by our ancestors, and which I trust we shall

maintain to the latest posterity; and that can only be done by

unanimity and obedience. This ship's company and others, who have

distinguished themselves by their loyalty and good order, deserve to be,

and doubtless will be, the favourites of a grateful country. They will

also have from their inward feelings a comfort which will be lasting,

and not like the floating and false confidence of those who have swerved

from their duty.

"It has often been my pride with you to look into the Texel and see a

foe which dreaded coming out to meet us; my pride is now humbled indeed;

my feelings are not easily to be expressed! our cup has overflowed and

made us wanton. The all-wise Providence has given us this check as a

warning, and I hope we shall improve by it. On Him then let us trust,

where our only security can be found. I find there are many good men

among us; for my own part, I have had full confidence of all in this

ship; and once more beg to express my approbation of your conduct.

"May God, who has thus far conducted you, continue to do so; and may the

British navy, the glory and support of our country, be restored to its

wonted splendour, and be not only the bulwark of Britain, but the terror

of the world.

"But this can only be effected by a strict adherence to our duty and

obedience; and let us pray that the almighty God may keep us in the

right way of thinking.

"God bless you all."

At an address so unassuming, modest and pious, and so well calculated,

from its simplicity and truth, to touch the human heart, the whole

ship's crew were dissolved in tears. They declared, by every expression

they could devise, their resolution to abide by the admiral in life or

death. Their example was followed by all the other ships, besides those

already mentioned. And the admiral, notwithstanding the defection of so

considerable a part of his squadron, repaired to his station off the

coast of Holland to watch the motions of the Dutch fleet, and resolved

still to do battle if opportunity served.

While he lay off the Texel the Dutch fleet did not venture out; but on

his being driven from his station by a gale of wind they took advantage

of his absence and put to sea; they had scarcely cleared the land,

however, when they were descried by the British fleet, which had

returned from Yarmouth as soon as possible. It was at nine o'clock on

the morning of October 12th, 1797, that the two fleets came in sight of

each other. Admiral Duncan, having judiciously placed his squadron in

such a position that the enemy could not regain the Texel unless they

fought their way thither, immediately bore up and made the signal for a

general chase. The Dutch at the time were forming in a line on the

larboard tack to receive the British, the wind being at north-west.

As soon as the British squadron came near, Admiral Duncan made the

signal to shorten sail in order to connect the ships of his squadron:

soon after this the land was seen between Camperdown and Egmont, on the

coast of Holland. This convinced him that no time was to be lost in

making the attack, as otherwise he might get entangled with the shore;

he accordingly made the signal to bear up, break the enemy's line and

engage them to leeward, each ship her opponent. By this manner he got

between them and the land, whither they were fast approaching.

Vice-admiral Onslow, in obedience to the signal, bore down on the rear

of the Dutch fleet in the most gallant manner, his division following

the example; and the action commenced about forty minutes after twelve

o'clock. Admiral Duncan, in the Venerable, soon got through the line

of the enemy, and began a close action with his division against their

van. The engagement lasted nearly two hours and a half, when the masts

of the Dutch admiral's ship were observed to go by the board: even for

some time after this, however, she was defended in the most gallant

manner; but at last, being overpowered by numbers, her colours were

struck, and the Dutch admiral, De Winter, was brought on board the


About the same time Vice-admiral Onslow had obliged the ship which

carried the Dutch vice-admiral's flag to strike her colours. Many others

had also surrendered. During the action the two fleets had approached

so near the coast of Holland, being within five miles of it, that they

had only nine fathoms of water. The first thing, therefore, to which

Admiral Duncan directed his attention was to get the heads of the

disabled ships off shore. This was indeed difficult and dangerous; for

the wind continued for some time to blow strong from west-south-west to

west-north-west, and consequently directly on the coast of Holland; as

soon as it shifted to the north the admiral made the signal to wear, and

stood to the westward. On October 14th he succeeded in reaching Orford

Ness, the Venerable being so leaky that, with all her pumps going, she

could be scarcely kept free of water.

During the action one of the enemy's ships caught fire and drove very

near the Venerable; but no mischief was done. The British squadron

suffered much in their masts, rigging, etc. The number of killed and

wounded on board of the British ships was very great; but that of the

Dutch much greater, five hundred men being killed and wounded on board

two of their ships only. Besides the Dutch admiral's ship, eight others

of the line and two frigates were captured. The Dutch attributed their

defeat to the circumstance that Vice-admiral Storey fled into the Texel

with the greater part of his division soon after the action began.

It was in connection with this engagement that the incident occurred

which forms the subject of the illustration on the cover of this volume.

The admiral's ship, the Venerable, was so hotly pressed that more than

once her colours were shot away. On one of these occasions the flag is

said to have been rescued and replaced by Jack Crawford, one of the

Venerable's men, in some such way as is described in the following


We had battled all the morning, 'mid the never-ceasing hail

Of shot and shell and splinter, of cable--shred, and sail;

We had thrice received their onslaught, which we thrice had driven


And were waiting, calm and ready, for the last forlorn attack;

When the stainless flag of England, that has braved a thousand


Was shot clean from the masthead; and they gave three hearty cheers.

'Twas the purpose of a moment, and the bravest of our tars

Plunged headlong in the boiling surf, amid the broken spars;

He snatched the shot-torn colours, and wound them round his arm,

Then climbed upon the deck again, and there stood safe and calm

He paused but for a moment--for it was no time to stay--

Then leaped into the rigging that had yet survived the fray;

Higher yet he climbed and higher, till he gained a dizzy height,

And then turned and paused a moment to look down upon the fight.

Whistled wild the shots around him, as a curling, smoky wreath

Formed a cloudy shroud to hide him from the enemy beneath.

Beat his heart with proud elation as he firmly fixed his stand,

And again the colours floated as he held them in his hand.

Then with pistol deftly wielded, 'mid the battle's ceaseless blast,

Fastened there the colours firmly, as he nailed them to the mast;

Then, as if to yield him glory, the smoke-clouds cleared away--

And we sent him up the loudest cheer that reached his ear that day,

And, with new-born zeal and courage, dashed more boldly to the


Till the day of battle ended in the triumph of the night.

Jack Crawford was a native of Sunderland, where he died in 1831. In 1890

a statue was erected to his memory in his native town by public

subscription, and was unveiled on April 8th by Lord Camperdown, a

descendant of Admiral Duncan, in whose ship Crawford served.