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
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
"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.