PHILIP BOTELER: CAPTAIN OF HMS AJAX from ? to 1779
Philip Boteler was the son of a very ancient family who held a large estate in Hertfordshire. He was appointed a Lieutenant in the Navy in February 1756, and advanced to the rank of Commander 16 June 1761. On 26 March 1762, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and appointed to the Nottingham, 60, in the West Indies, and soon after to the Penzance 5th-rate, on the same station.
In 1764 he commanded the Shannon frigate off the coast of Africa. He left the ship and returned to England but did not hold any further commission until 1776, when he was appointed to the command of the newly-built Acteon, 44, on the West Indian station. At the beginning of the year 1779 he was appointed to the Ajax, 74, on the same station, but early in the summer transferred to the Ardent, 64.
In August, on passage down Channel to join Sir C. Hardy, he had the bad luck to fall in with the combined fleets of France and Spain, off Plymouth. He had had no previous intelligence that the enemy was out, and little thought that they could be off Plymouth, or that the English fleet he was to join was many leagues further to the westward. He was in the act of reefing his topsails when the enemy frigate poured her broadside into his stern. This unfortunate episode, being followed by a court martial, Captain Boteler was dismissed the service.
SAMUEL UVEDALE: CAPTAIN OF HMS AJAX from 4 SEPTEMBER 1779 to 28 APRIL 1780
Samuel Uvedale was born in the county of Warwick, and was appointed a Lieutenant in the Navy 5 May 1747. No details are known after this date until 18 February, 1760, when he was appointed Captain of the Boreas frigate on the West Indian station. She returned to England in 1762, and was broken up.
Captain Uvedale's next commission was not until 1779, when he was appointed to the Ajax, 74, one of Sir George Brydges Rodney's fleet. Sailing to Gibraltar, to relieve the garrison with a convoy, on 8 January 1780, a strange fleet was sighted in the north-east quarter. A general chase was signalled, leaving the convoy in the charge of a frigate or two. The fleet proved to be a Spanish convoy of storeships on their way to supply the Spanish fleet lying at Cadiz. They and their escort of a 64-gun ship, four frigates and two corvettes, surrendered without firing a shot. The British fleet continued, with its twenty-two prizes, to rejoin its own convoy. The 64-gun ship was renamed the Prince William, made escort to the prizes and sent back to England.
On 17 January 1780 the Bedford made the signal for seeing a fleet in the south-east, quarter, which proved to be eleven Spanish ships of the line, with two frigates, commanded by Admiral Don Juan de Langara. At 4 p.m. the Edgar began to engage a 74-gun ship, and soon after the Ajax opened fire on another. Shifting their targets after two broadsides, the second 74, the San Domingo, blew up. All the British ships were soon in action. Five other Spanish ships struck their colours before 2 in the morning. Two more drifted to leeward - one driving ashore and the other being retaken by the Spaniards. Nevertheless, four ships and the Spanish admiral remained in Rodney's hands. Only four of Langara's ships escaped.
The Ajax sustained damage to sails, lost her foretopmast, and had two guns disabled. Casualties, however, were light - she had only nine officers and men wounded.
The fleet lay anchored in Gibraltar Bay for three weeks, and then Rodney sailed with the Sandwich, Ajax and Terrible on 12 February 1780 for the West Indies, and moored in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, on 18 March 1780. France and Spain had joined the American cause, after the commencement of the War of Independence.
The French Admiral de Guichen and Rodney met for the first time on 17 April, 1780, between Martinique and Dominica. After a day spent jockeying for position Rodney won the weather gage, and signalled to his fleet that he meant to attack the enemy's rear and centre. De Guichen, seeing the danger, wore all his ships together, and stood down to save his rear. Rodney hauled up on the same tack as the enemy, both fleets headed for the south-eastward. At noon Rodney signalled for each ship to steer for her opposite in the enemy line, meaning her opposite at the moment, not her opposite in numerical order. Unfortunately, the Stirling Castle, Captain Robert Carkett, the leading ship, instead of bearing down for the enemy ship opposite, was reaching forward for the van. The remainder of the van division, of which the Ajax was one, followed; the Stirling Castle and the Ajax began the action. Rodney could only carry the rear and centre divisions into close action.
The two fleets pounded away from a quarter to one until five o'clock. The Ajax in particular was gravely damaged, the main topgallant mast being shot through, and seventeen men killed or wounded in this inconclusive action.
At last de Guichen withdrew to his base of Basse Terre, Guadeloupe. His ships had been beaten to a standstill and he abandoned his objective of an attack on Barbados. Too many of the British ships had been crippled for Rodney to follow him.
Captain Uvedale's health being very poor, Rodney sent him home after the battle with despatches. The Countess Cornwallis wrote to her husband that on reaching London Uvedale claimed complete forgetfulness of the action as 'something heavy had fell on his head.'
Probably due to his ill-health, he did not hold any further commissions, and was superannuated in 1787. However, after strong representations that an officer who had distinguished himself so gallantly in his youth should not be treated thus, he was promoted in 1789 to the rank of Rear-Admiral, on half-pay. He died 14 December 1808.
JOHN SYMONS: CAPTAIN OF HMS Ajax from 10 JUNE 1780 to 14 MAY 1781
John Symons was advanced to the rank of Post Captain 28 January 1771. John Symons took command of HMS Ajax on 10 June, 1780, at Gros Islet Bay, St Lucia.
Oh 10 October 1780, an appalling hurricane struck the West Indies. HMS Ajax was at anchor in the careenage in Gros Islet Bay. At 6 o'clock in the evening she struck her topgallant masts. About the same time the seas became so steep that the cable to the small bower parted. They let go the best bower and veered to half a cable, but the exceptionally high seas forced the ship aground, in only 27 feet of water. They succeeded in getting clear, and for the next day and a half they drifted blindly. She eventually regained harbour, but not without great damage to masts and sails, and the loss of one seaman.
On 28 April, 1781, Rear-Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, with sixteen line of battle ships, was off Martinique. HMS Ajax was the van ship of Rear-Admiral Drake's Blue Squadron. A British frigate, flying the signal for 'Enemy fleet in sight' bore down. Admiral the Compte de Grasse, with twenty ships of the line, his flag in the Ville de Paris, 110, was escorting a convoy of 150 sail to Martinique.
Hood was held down to the westward of Martinique by the trade wind and the westward-running currents, and de Grasse hove to windward of Point Salines, and sent ashore to announce his arrival. Early next day he advanced through the channel between Martinique and St Lucia, his line of battle ships forming a screen for the convoy hugging the coast. Hood was to leeward, running south, and tacked his ships to range alongside the enemy, offering battle. De Grasse held off, firing at long range so ineffectually that Hood did not bother to reply. By 11.20 a.m., both fleets were approaching the north shore of Port Royal Bay, and both reversed course, turning towards each other. Hood brought to, inviting the French to come to him, but they sailed on, although their fleet had been increased by the four ships of the line from Port Royal. Hood kept ahead of them, firing at long range, and bewailing the waste of powder and shot.
The two fleets again approached the channel between Martinique and St Lucia. The four leading ships of Hood's line caught the breeze and drew away from the rest, to be opposed by double their number of the enemy, and harshly dealt with. The Russel had to be ordered to St Eustatius, her damage was so great. She gave Admiral Rodney his first news of the action.
The next day, 30 April, the two fleets still faced each other. Though de Grasse no longer had to concern himself with the safety of his convoy, now in Port Royal Bay, he still refused action. Finally, Hood made the signal to withdraw, at 8 p.m. The state of the three ships badly damaged, and the general condition of the remainder of his fleet (he had 1,500 sick and short of complements) made it impossible to beat 24 ships of the line, and if the French had been victorious the consequences would probably have meant the loss of the British islands.
Captain Symons transferred to the Gibraltar and then to the Formidable, as Sir George's flag captain, but the Admiral, who had a great deal of trouble with the dockyard, and also with his own officers, over the speedy refitting of the ships, considered Symons as bad as the rest, and as soon as a vacancy occurred, transferred him to the Warrior.
John Symons died 16 December, 1799.