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Admiral Sir James Douglas of Springwood



Douglas, Sir James, first baronet of Springwood (1703–1787), naval officer, was the son of George Douglas 7th laird of Friarshaw, Roxburghshire, and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Patrick Scott, baronet, of Ancrum, in the same county. This Douglas line descended from the Douglas of Cavers branch of the family, and were lawyers and merchants. They took the title Douglas of Friarshaw from the original seat of the family in the parish of Lilliesleaf.

Douglas, despite entering the navy in 1715, had to wait until 1732 to be commissioned. However, he was—and remained—politically well-connected. In 1741, when he was serving at Cartagena in the Tilbury, his patron was William Pulteney. On 14 March 1744 Douglas was posted to the Mermaid (40 guns) and he commanded her at the capture of Louisbourg in 1745. On that station in 1746 he commanded the Vigilant (64 guns), and in the same year was appointed Commodore of Newfoundland by Vice-Admiral Townsend.

From 1754 to 1768 he was MP for the seat of Orkney and Shetland, a constituency which provided a number of men for the navy. Often absent from parliament, he followed his patron, the earl of Morton, in his support of the duke of Newcastle.

He returned to the navy and, in 1756, Douglas commanded the Bedford in the Home Fleet and in December and January he sat on Admiral John Byng's court martial. In the following year he commanded the Alcide (64 guns) on the fruitless Rochefort expedition. In 1759, while in the same ship, he served at the capture of Quebec. Admiral Charles Saunders valued his knowledge of ‘the French language, and particularly their sea-terms’ and found him ‘very useful’ in dealing with ‘the French pilots’ (TNA: PRO, ADM 1/482, part 1, fol. 50). In September Saunders sent Douglas home with the tidings of victory and the king duly rewarded him with a knighthood and a gift of £500.

In 1760 Douglas was appointed to the Dublin as commodore and commander-in-chief at the Leeward Islands. Here he displayed administrative and diplomatic skills, and dealt effectively with troublesome enemy privateers. In 1761 he moved swiftly and successfully, in conjunction with Lord Rollo and his troops, to take the island of Dominica.

In 1762 Douglas was understandably surprised to be superseded by Rear-Admiral George Rodney, and he served as Rodney's second-in-command at the capture of Martinique. Later that year Douglas was appointed to the chief command at Jamaica where he handled the local planters with characteristic tact. He gave indispensable support to the Havana expedition but, to his chagrin, did not share in the lavish subsequent rewards. On 21 October he was promoted rear-admiral of the white. During the peace he went out again to the West Indies as commander-in-chief.

In October 1770 Douglas advanced to vice-admiral, and from 1773 to 1777 he was commander-in-chief at Portsmouth. In January 1778 he became an admiral of the blue and, in April 1782, an admiral of the white.

Douglas was twice married: first in 1753 to Helen (d. 1766), daughter of Thomas Brisbane of Brisbane in Ayrshire; the couple had four sons and three daughters. His second wife was Lady Helen Boyle, daughter of John, second earl of Glasgow and Helenor, née Morison.

He purchased Springwood Park, Kelso, in 1750 and changed its name from Bridgend.

Having been created a baronet on 27 June 1786, he died on 2 November 1787 and was survived by children from his first marriage, including Admiral James Douglas, leaving the estate to his son, George.



Further research: The James Douglas papers are comprised of letters, letter books, logbooks, account books, and official naval documents relating to the career of Sir James Douglas, a British Admiral who was active in European and Caribbean waters and participated in the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg.


See also:

  • Douglas of Friarhaw

  • Douglas of Springwood



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    Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024