Captain William Douglas

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Captain William Douglas, (died 1741) commander of HMS Falmouth, was one of eight sons of Henry Douglas, 6th Laird of Friarshaw, Laird of Belches and Martha Lockart.

Happy Jan 1728-729 Commanding Officer

Promoted Captain, 31st Dec 1729
Anglesea 31st Dec 1729 - Sep 1730 Commanding Officer
Phoenix 1732 - 1734 Commanding Officer (1)
Falmouth 1738 - 20th May 1741 Commanding Officer (2)

Took part in Battle of Cartagena de Indias, 4th March 1741 - May 1741

In his celebrated work entitled 'The History of Freemasonry', Robert Gould tells us that, in 1737, a mere twenty years after the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge, one William Douglas, Commander of 'H. M. S. Falmouth', was appointed Provincial Grand Master for 'the Coast of Africa and the Islands of America'. This vague description has been the subject of much speculation, but it is generally felt by most students of Masonic history, that the term 'the Islands of America', applied to none other than the islands of the West Indies. It has been said that Freemasonry was 'introduced' into Jamaica in 1738 with the establishment of the Mother Lodge No. 182 (so named in 1776) which was warranted in that year, but, as can be gleaned from the above, this is highly speculative, and it may be far more accurate to describe that Lodge as being the first Lodge warranted to work on Jamaican soil.

In 1738 Lieutenant Charles Steevens on HMS Falmouth was involved in an incident whereby he insisted that Captain William Douglas, commanding officer of the ship, be confined in his cabin for the preservation of their lives, he being disordered in his senses: Steevens eventually gave Douglas a public apology and thereby avoided court martial.

In December 1737 Steevens was appointed first lieutenant of the Falmouth, commanded by Captain William Douglas, which sailed for the coast of Guinea with Captain George (afterwards Lord) Anson.  At St. Iago of the Cape Verd Islands, on 28 May 1738, the Falmouth was detached to go to Jamaica, Anson, for some reason never explained, giving Steevens a copy of Douglas's orders. The next day Steevens, after holding a council of the commissioned and warrant officers of the ship, and in ‘conjunction’ with them, confined Captain Douglas in his cabin ‘for the preservation of their lives,’ he being ‘disordered in his senses’ (Log of the Falmouth, 29 May). On arriving at Jamaica on 20 June Steevens reported the circumstance to Commodore Brown, the commander-in-chief. The next day Brown went on board the Falmouth, and, judging that Douglas was not mad, released him from confinement. Douglas then demanded that Steevens and the other officers should be tried for mutiny; but there were many difficulties in the way of holding a court-martial, and especially the absence of Anson. Brown, too, was convinced that Steevens had acted in good faith; and finally Douglas consented to receive an apology, which was formally given on 6 July on the Falmouth's quarterdeck, in presence of Brown and all the captains then in port (Brown to Burchett, 8 July; Admirals' Despatches, Jamaica). The next day Steevens was moved into the Sheerness, and soon all the other officers, some of the midshipmen, and even of the seamen, were moved into other ships (Paybook of the Falmouth), Douglas remaining in command of the Falmouth till his death in May 1741.

William Douglas died 20th May 1741 (In battle?, or of wounds? or of disease?) in Jamaica, when Captain of HMS Falmouth.

1.  Following a re-build at Woolwich, HMS Phoenix commissioned in 1727 under Captain Aurthur Jones, RN, for service in Home Waters. Captain Jones died in January 1731 and the ship was paid off. In 1732 she was under Captain William Douglas, RN, for service at Jamaica. She returned Home to pay off in 1734. She underwent a small repair at Woolwich from May to December 1735 costing £988.10.1d.  Captain Charles Fanshaw, RN took over in 1737 for service in Carolina from 1738 to 1740 then she was in Georgia operations in June 1740. She played a minor role in the 1740 Siege of St. Augustine during the War of Jenkins' Ear. In 1741 she was involved in the defence of Charlestown, South Carolina from Spanish pirates. She returned Home in April 1742.
2.  HMS Falmouth was a 50-gun fourth-rate ship of the line built for the Royal Navy in the first decade of the 18th century. The ship participated in several battles during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–15) and the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–48).

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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024