Early life of de Saumarez
He was entered on the books of a naval vessel in 1767, aged just 10.
This was a common ploy of the day in order to secure seniority. He did
not actually go to sea until the grand old age of 12 in 1769. His career
only concluded on 10th May 1827 when he struck his flag for the last
time after three years as Port Admiral at Plymouth. His career had
lasted the greater part of 60 years.
He took an active part in the War of
American Independence. He so impressed Lord Cornwallis that he was
offered a commission in the army, which, fortunately, he declined. Whilst
serving on HMS Bristol in 1776 the ship was heavily engaged by a
powerfully defended coastal fort. There were 111 killed and wounded on
his vessel alone. Seven out of the eight men who were working the gun
he commanded were killed. Later in the action Sir John Ross recounts
how Saumarez: “…was standing close to Mr Darley, a midshipman, for
whom he had the greatest regard, when a shot took off the young man’s
head and covered Mr Saumarez with his blood”. Life was brutal and
bloody on a British man-of-war in action.
Saumarez was appointed Lieutenant and given command of a
schooner-rigged galley called Spitfire in which he further distinguished
himself, engaging the enemy 47 times in that vessel alone. He returned
to England and served for a time as 3rd and later 1st Lieutenant in
HMS Victory, flagship of the Channel Fleet. He took part in the Battle of
Dogger Bank on 5th August 1781 against the Dutch, a fiercely fought,
but inconclusive engagement.
Lieutenant Saumarez was presented
to King George III and promoted to Master and Commander of the
Tisiphone, a fire-ship. Action followed in the West Indies and soon after
he was again promoted to the rank of post Captain (i.e. a full Captain)
in command of HMS Russell, a 74 gun ship of the line. In April 1782 he
was engaged in a particularly fierce action against the French, actually
causing the French flag-ship, the much heavier gunned Ville de Paris,
the largest ship in the then French navy, to strike her colours.