Admiral William (Billy) Douglas, 1749-1817

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Admiral William (Billy) Douglas, 1749-1817 was Admiral of the Blue Squadron, Port Admiral at Yarmouth and subsequently Chatham, Kent, England. He commanded the Stately 64 in expeditions against the Cape of Good Hope in 1795 and 1796.

He was born on 30 April 1749 at Turnham Green, Chiswick, London.

Douglas was commissioned lieutenant on 10 August 1776, and by July 1777 he was in command of the brig Antigua 12 at Jamaica, with which he captured the rebel privateer Blacksnake 12 in a ferocious duel. He was promoted commander on 18 July 1778, and after being appointed to the sloop Snake 12 he served in the Leeward Islands. Prior to the Battle of St. Lucia on 15 December his sloop was part of a small squadron sent to patrol the coast and prevent word of the British invasion reaching the French. Seeing duty thereafter in North American waters, the Snake was present at the siege of Savannah. After returning to England his crew were transferred to the Ardent 64, Captain Phillip Botelaar, which vessel was promptly captured by the enemy during the Channel fleet’s retreat of August 1779. Meanwhile Douglas joined the Fly 14 in October 1779..

He was posted captain on 15 August 1781, joining the Princess Amelia 80 in succession to the late Captain John Macartney who had been killed at the Battle of the Doggersbank, and he served in the Channel fleet until July of the following year.

In March 1794, after a long period of unemployment, Douglas commissioned the Nonsuch 64 for service in the Channel, removing shortly afterwards to the Stately 64. He put to sea from St. Helen’s on 2 May with Admiral Lord Howe’s Channel fleet, and at the appropriate latitude was detached with the East India convoy and the Suffolk 74, Commodore Peter Rainier for the onward voyage south. One of his officers at this time was the esteemed Phillip Beaver.

Having initially sailed under Commodore John Blankett’s orders, in March 1795 Douglas commanded the Stately in Rear-Admiral Sir George Keith Elphinstone’s expedition to the Cape on 16 September, and was present at the reduction of Ceylon. Not long afterwards the Stately fell in with Elphinstone again off Cape Agulhas at the very southern tip of Africa where Beaver was instrumental in preventing her from foundering. She later captured the privateer Milanie on 7 July 1796 and on 17 August was present at the surrender of the Dutch squadron in Saldanha Bay. Douglas left her shortly afterwards, and he returned to England towards the end of the following year in command of the Dutch prize Tromp 54. Whilst she was converted into a troopship he spent the next three years with the Sandwich 98 in the Medway.

Douglas was advanced to flag rank on 1 January 1801, and during 1805 he flew his flag aboard the Leopard 50, Captain Richard Raggett, in the Downs and occasionally off Boulogne. On one occasion he recalled an attack by Commodore Edward Owen, much to that officer’s evident disgust, after he had surprised six prams of the enemy’s flotilla including one flying a rear-admiral’s flag.

He was promoted vice-admiral on 9 November 1805, and held the command of the Great Yarmouth station (Port Admiral) with his flag aboard the Roebuck 44, initially commanded by George M’Kinley, and from January 1806 Richard Curry. He remained in this position until 1810, and during this period he sat on the court martial on Admiral Lord Gambier following the Basque Roads fiasco of 11 April 1809.

Douglas was promoted admiral on 4 December 1813, and died at Hamble in Hampshire on 2 December 1817.
According to the Salisbury and Winchester Journal of 6th December 1817  in the house of his son-in-law, Capt Bradby, RN.

He married Ann Weatherall and had three sons and three daughters. He was the father of Commander Roddam Douglas who from 1807-08 was held as a prisoner of war at Verdun, and who died at Halifax in 1813, and of Admiral Peter John Douglas. His oldest daughter Alithea married Captain John Millar Adye whilst his second daughter, Catherine, married Captain Matthew Barton Bradby, the son of Rear-Admiral James Bradby, who died in the company of Admiral Sir Joseph Sidney Yorke in May 1831 when their yacht sank in Stokes Bay near Portsmouth. A third daughter, Grace, married Captain John Richard Lumley. who died in the East Indies in July 1821 whilst commanding the Topaze 46.

Douglas’ address in his will was given as Charlton, Kent.

I am advised that his father is Major Patrick Douglas(1), b. 18 Mar 1722, Fowlis Easter, Perthshire, Scotland.

Admiral William DOUGLAS was born on 30 Apr 1749 in Turnham Green, Chiswick, Middlesex, England. He died on 2 Dec 1817 in Hamble, Hampshire, England. He married Ann WEATHERALL.

They had the following children:

M i Commander Roddam DOUGLAS R.N. died on 3 Aug 1813.
F ii Alithea Lawless DOUGLAS was born on 4 Sep 1781. She died on 30 Jan 1853. = Captain John Millar ADYE RN on 11 Oct 1810
F iii Catherine Hodgkins DOUGLAS was born on 7 Apr 1784. She died on 17 Jun 1874. = Captain Matthew Bradby RN on 25 Nov 1808.
F iv Grace Mary DOUGLAS was born on 18 Oct 1785. She died on 17 Apr 1863. = Capt Lumley RN
M v Rear Admiral Peter John DOUGLAS R.N. was born on 30 Jun 1787. He died on 17 Dec 1858.
M vi Henry Osborne DOUGLAS was born in 1788. He died about 1821.
Lt Billy Douglas, of the sloop Antigua (12 guns), captured the American privateer, Blacksnake (12 guns, 60 men) after a very severe action, and was promoted. (possibly in 1777)

1.  Major Patrick Douglas was born on 18 Mar 1722 in Fowlis Easter, Perthshire, Scotland and died on 28 Jun 1779 in Portsmouth Garrison Church, Hampshire at age 57. Patrick married Catherine Eastwood on 25 Aug 1747 in St Mary's Church, Rowner, Hampshire. Catherine was born on 1 Jul 1724 and died in 1788 at age 64.
Patrick was the son of John Douglas who was born in 1699 and was christened on 18 Aug 1699 in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland. John married Agnes Rossel.
John was the son of Robert Douglas and Marian St Clair.


Sources for this article include:

• Richard Hiscocks - 'morethannelson'

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