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Sir Joseph Abraham Douglas, RN





Sir Joseph Abraham Douglas, born 1797, was the son of Joseph Douglas, Esq., of Whitehaven, Cumberland, by the 2nd dau. of Abraham Leggett, Esq., of Cardiff, Glamorganshire. He married in 1825, the 2nd daughter of Capt. Thos. Worsell, of the Scilly Islands (she was born 1802).


He received the honour of knighthood for having, when captain of the ship Cambridge, armed his vessel at Singapore, and proceeded to the assistance of the British in Hong Kong Bay.  There he was severely wounded in the attack upon the Chinese junks at Kowloon, 5th Sept. 1839.


He was a master R.N.


Letter to the Editor 5th November 1839 – your September issue was biased. Elliot’s actions are diametrically opposed to the interests of the British mercantile community yet you find no fault in them. I am British and I have an opinion on the ‘Kowloon Bay’ affair. From 7th July to 4th September Elliot’s regulations were inconsistent and absurd but the worst matter was the 4th September battle.
You have made several important criticisms but the most important one is missing – HMS Volage did sail against the warjunks but they were not driven ashore as you published. HMS Volage did not fire a shot. Ask Elliot why. Elliot’s order was to board and cut-out the junks. In conformity, Capt Douglas of the Cambridge commanded one of the boarding boats and attacked but failed. He was beaten off. Several other boats were coming to Douglas’ help and I witnessed Capt Jauncey (in one of them) call upon him to renew the attack but he retreated. With the leader retreating, the others did so also. Then the recall order was given and all the boats returned to Hong Kong. That was the end of the first day.
The boats of the fleet promptly obeyed Elliot’s order to advance the following morning to avenge the previous day’s defeat. They pulled on their oars before dawn in order to arrive at Kowloon Bay early but were again ordered back to the contempt and disgust of their crews. This was glaring mismanagement. Had the boats been left to themselves they would have procured the redress that was required. These are not just my opinions. All the fleet except a certain clique hold them.
We have stained the bright flag of old England. Elliot may have been wrong to order the attack but having done so he should have prosecuted it at all hazard. The junks should have been cut-out and burned, the fort dismantled. Our representative and our flag had been fired upon. Sgd Zosteria


Letter to the Editor 26th November 1839– You published Zosteria’s prejudicial account of the 4th September affair in Kowloon Bay. Please insert this correction:
At 3pm that day Captain Parry told me the junks and fort were attacking Elliot in the cutter. I had no orders to act but I assembled some volunteers and manned a boat to assist. On arrival I was surprised that, although many boats had preceded mine, none was to be seen.
I passed under the cutter’s stern and Elliot told me to drive the junks on shore. I drove one on shore and the other two anchored inside of her under the battery. I was assisted by the Captain and four men in the John Marsh’s boat. I returned to the cutter, my boat severely damaged and my crew and I all injured.
When we moved out of gunshot, several boats came up. One had 5-6 captains in her, swollen with brandy, with varying opinions on what was to be done. One carried a sword longer than he was himself and proclaimed his valour. Why did he not lead his dinner party to destroy the battery and fire the junks? The latter might easily have been achieved by lighting his breath.
Row, row brothers, row,
But not so fast,
We shall be there too soon.
Let’s see the battle past,
And then we’ll quit Kowloon.
Had I not been there the British flag would have been disgraced with a vengeance. Sgd Captain J A Douglas, Cambridge, 20th November


The Cambridge 900 ton ex-warship had been sold cheap by Capt Douglas to Warren Delano II, renamed Chesapeake, and on-sold to the Hongs for Commissioner Lin who towed her below Whampoa, lined her decks with cannon, flew flags from the masts with the character for ‘courage’ on them and gave the river smugglers pause. It was re-named the Helen Douglas. At the end of Feb 1841 men of the paddle steamer Nemesis boarded and burned her in the course of the British attack on Canton.


At some point, his wife, Lady Douglas. Martha, daughter of Capt. T. Worsell, whom he married in 1825, was on board the Cambridge.


Douglas may have been captured by the Chinese in 1840.


Colonial Times article




Douglas arms (as granted to Sir Joseph ABRAHAM Douglas, of Clarendon House, Isle of Thanet). Ar. a human heart gu. ensigned by a naval crown or, in chief three mullets az. ; on a chief embattled of the last, on the dexter a representation of the ship Cambridge, defending a fleet of merchant vessels, superinscribed “Hong Kong,” in letters of gold, and on the sinister side a representation of the barge belonging to the said ship, engaging with three Chinese junks under a battery, superinscribed “ Kowloon," in letters also gold.

Crest—On an Eastern crown or, the rim inscribed “China’’ in letters sa. betw. two wings a heart as in the arms.


Sir Joseph Abraham Douglas died in 1866 and is buried in Brockley cemetery.




Any contributions will be gratefully accepted




Sources for this article include:

A Peoples History from the Newspapers



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