Admiral Sir Charles Douglas of Carr, Bart, bc1728, d1789

 

Douglas was born in Carr, Perthshire, Scotland to Charles Ayton Douglas and Christian Hepburn of Kinglassie. Little is known of his early life, although it is established that he could speak six languages. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of twelve, and spent some time in the Dutch service before resuming his career with the British. He was a midshipman at the siege of Louisbourg in 1745. In 1753, he was promoted to lieutenant, became a commander in 1759, and by the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, was captain of HMS Syren. While commanding the Syren, Sir Charles reported the attack on St. John's and took part in recapturing Newfoundland.

Following the war, Sir Charles went to St. Petersburg to help re-organize the Russian navy in 1764-1765.

American Revolutionary War years

After the Revolutionary War broke out in America in 1775, Douglas was given command of a squadron to relieve Quebec from the siege. When he arrived at the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he decided to ram the ice and successfully made his way up the river, surprising the Americans and putting them on the run. He was also in charge of creating a navy from scratch to fight on Lake Champlain, and that small fleet routed the Americans under Benedict Arnold. In 1777, he was made a baronet for his service in Quebec. As captain of HMS Stirling Castle, he took part in the Battle of Ushant.

In 1781, Sir Charles became Captain-of-the-Fleet for George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney, and was with Rodney on his flagship, Formidable, at the Battle of the Saintes off Dominica, where on 12 April 1782, they defeated the Comte de Grasse by breaking the French line. Douglas is credited by many, including Sir Charles Dashwood (a midshipman present at the time who later became an admiral himself), for having the idea for the manoeuvre, but it is a subject of much debate.

Following the war, he was the Commander-in-Chief of North America at the Halifax, Nova Scotia Station, but resigned due to a conflict.

In 1783, whilst flying his flag on HMS Assistance, Lt Hamilton Douglas Halyburton, The Earl of Morton's son,  and 12 crew members lost their lives pursuing deserters.

In 1787 he became a rear-admiral, and in 1789 was once again made commander of the Nova Scotia station, but died of apoplexy before taking his post.

 

Naval career:

-1740 Joined Royal Navy at age twelve

-1745 Midshipman at Siege of Louisbourg

-1753 Lieutenant in the Royal Navy

-1759 Promoted to Commander

-1761 Made Post-Captain; Commander of HMS Unicorn, 28 guns

-1762 Commander of HMS Syren, 20 guns, Newfoundland

-1767 Commander of HMS Emerald, 32 guns -1770 Commander of HMS St. Albans, 61 guns

-1775 Commander of HMS Isis, 50 guns, Quebec

-1776 Commodore in charge of building Lake Champlain fleet

-1777 Commander of HMS Stirling Castle, 64 Guns

-1778 Commander of HMS Duke, 98 guns, Channel Fleet

-1781 Captain-of-the-Fleet of Sir George Rodney, flagship HMS Formidable, West Indies

-1783 Commodore and Commander-in-Chief of Halifax Station, HMS Assistance, 50 guns

-1787 Promoted to Rear-Admiral

-1789 Commander-in-Chief of North American Station, HMS London Man, 50 guns

Personal life:

Sarah Wood
Sarah Wood of Yorkshire
Douglas was married three times: first to a Dutch woman called Uranie Lidie Marteilhe, with whom he had a son (His biographer, Stephen Watson Fullom, says two sons) and a daughter; second to Sarah Wood of Yorkshire, the mother of Sir Howard Douglas; and third to a woman named Jane or Helen. There is a great deal of confusion regarding the identity of Sir Charles' third wife, whose last name has been variously reported as Baillie, Grew, and Brisbane. It appears that some sources have mistaken his sister, Helena Baillie, for his third wife because she raised his younger children while he was at sea. The name Helen Brisbaine is probably also an error based on a mistake in The Scottish Nation (1862) where it says she was married to Admiral Sir Charles Douglas when, in fact, she was the wife of Admiral Sir James Douglas. When his eldest daughter, Lydia Mariana, married Rev. Richard Bingham against his wishes, he disinherited her. Following his death, Lydia and her husband sued for a share of his estate, and the case was appealed until finally being decided against them in the House of Lords in 1796. The case is made famous because of a letter Lydia had written to Adam Smith, a friend and distant relative of Sir Charles, requesting his assistance in reconciling the father and daughter.

 

Sir Charles was known as a mechanical genius, and many of his suggestions for improvements on naval vessels, including the substitution of flintlocks for matches, were adopted by the Admiralty for the entire Royal Navy.

He was succeeded as Baronet of Carr by his sons, Vice-Admiral Sir William Henry Douglas, 2nd Baronet, and General Sir Howard Douglas , 3rd Baronet, who became a General, lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, MP for Liverpool, and Lord High Chancellor of the Ionian Islands.

Both Douglastown and Douglas, Nova Scotia, are named after him. The song "Caillich Odhar" was composed by Nathaniel Gow in his honour.

 

References:

-Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition

-Fullom, S.W. Life of General Sir Howard Douglas (1865)

-Clark, William Bell. Naval Documents of the American Revolution, vol. 3-6 (1968-1971)

-Douglas, Percy. History of the Family Douglas, vol. I.

-Paton, Thomas S., Reports of Cases Decided in the House of Lords, Upon Appeal from Scotland, from 1753 to 1813, vol. III (1853)

-The Complete Baronetage

-Burke's Peerage and Baronetage (1938)

-Leigh Rayment's Baronetage Page.

The above was contributed by Christopher Valin, a great-great-great grandson of Marguerite Douglas, the daughter of Sir Howard Douglas (Sir Charles' son)by Catherine Normandeau of Quebec (whom he never married).

Christopher Valin has just (November 2008) published Sir Charles' biography: Fortune's Favorite: Sir Charles Douglas and the Breaking of the Line.  It is available in our bookshop.

 

 

 

 

 

DOUGLAS, SIR CHARLES, Bart. (d. 1789), British admiral, a descendant of the Scottish earls of Morton, was promoted lieutenant in the navy on the 4th of December 1753. Nothing is known of his early life. He became commander on the 24th of February 1759, and attained to post rank in 1761. 

When the War of American Independence began, he took an active part in the defence of Canada in 1775, and he afterwards commanded the Stirling Castle” 64 in the battle of the Ushant, 27th of July 1778. His reputation is based first on the part he played in the battle of Dominica, 12th of April 1782, and then. on the improvements in gunnery which he introduced into the British navy. 

It appears from the testimony of Sir F. Thesiger (d. 1805), who was present on the quarter-deck of the flagship, that Sir Charles Douglas, who was then captain of the fleet, first pointed out to Rodney the possibility and the advantage of passing through the French line. His advice was taken with reluctance. 

On the other hand, Lord Hood accuses Douglas of living in such abject fear of his admiral that he did not venture to speak with the freedom which his important post entitled him to take. His more certain claim to be ranked high among naval officers is founded on the many improvements he introduced into naval gunnery. 

Some account of these will be found in the writings of his son. He became rear-admiral on the 24th of September 1787, and died suddenly of apoplexy in February 1789. He was made a baronet for his services in the West Indies.

 

Source: http://21.1911encyclopedia.org/D/DO/DOUGLAS_SIR_CHARLES.htm 

Father of General Sir Howard Douglas

His daughter, Ann, married Donald Campbell of Barbreck (d 1856) and had issue. He was a descendant of John Campbell 1st of Lochnell, and a naval captain, commanding 'L'Espeigle' in 1809.

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Possibly Helen Brisbane, dau of John Brisbane of Brisbane who married Margaret, daughter of Sir Archibald Stewart of Blackhall. She is known to have married an Admiral Charles Douglas.

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Sir Charles appears to have had an elder brother, William Ayton Douglas, who succeeded his father Charles Ayton Douglas of Kinglassie, c1744, and the following younger siblings: John, James, Sholto, Helen, and Jean Douglas

There is a memorial to him in Greyfriars churchyard, Edinburgh, Scotland on the South wall of church:

'TO THE REVERED MEMORY OF/REAR ADMIRAL/SIR CHAS DOUGLAS, BART/SON OF/CHAS AYTON DOUGLAS/OF KINGLASSIE/BORN 1727 DIED 1789/A DISTINGUISHED OFFICER/HE RELIEVED QUEBEC 1778 AND/WHEN CAPT. OF THE FLEET TO/ADL SIR GEORGE RODNEY/IN THE HEAT OF BATTLE FIRST/SUGGESTED THE MANOEUVRE KNOWN/AS THE BREAKING OF THE LINE/12 APRIL 1782/INTERRED BESIDE HIS BROTHER/NEAR THIS SPOT.' 

See also:

  • Dictionary of Canadian Biography

  • Douglas of Carr
  • This page was last updated on 29 June 2015

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