Dismal Jimmy

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Thu 13 Jun 2013 22:57
James Gambier, 1st Baron Gambier



Dismal Jimmy


Admiral of the Fleet James Gambier, 1st Baron Gambier GCB (13th of October 1756 – 19th of April 1833) was an admiral of the Royal Navy, who served as Governor of Newfoundland, and as a Lord of the Admiralty. He gained public distinction for his part in the Glorious First of June in 1794, but later became known for the notoriety gained for his inaction at the Battle of the Basque Roads.


Early career: Gambier was born in New Providence, The Bahamas, the second son of John Gambier, the Lieutenant Governor. His mother, Deborah Stiles was Bermudian, and he remained the patron of an extended, but impoverished, Bermudian family throughout his adult life. Gambier was a nephew of Vice-Admiral James Gambier and of Admiral Sir Charles Middleton, Lord Barham. He was the uncle of the novelist Lady Chatterton.

He entered the Navy in 1767 as a midshipman on board the HMS Yarmouth, commanded by his uncle, which was serving as a guardship in the Medway, and followed him to server on board the sixty-gun HMS Salisbury in 1769 where he served on the North American Station. He transferred to the fifty-gun HMS Chatham under Rear Admiral Parry, in 1772, in the Leeward Islands. Gambier was placed on HMS Spy sloop, and he was posted to England to serve on the seventy four-gun, third-rate HMS Royal Oak, a guardship at Spithead. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant on the 12th of February 1777, where he served in a successively in the Shark sloop, the twenty four-gun frigate HMS Hind, then HMS Sultan under Vice-Admiral Lord Shuldham in 1777, and in HMS Ardent under his uncle's flag. Lord Howe promoted Lieutenant Gambier to Master & Commander on the 9th of March 1778, commanding the bomb ship HMS Thunder, which was promptly dismasted and surrendered to the French. He was taken prisoner for a short period and when he was exchanged he was made a Post Captain on the 9th of October 1778, at the age of twenty two, and appointed to the thirty two-gun frigate HMS Raleigh. He served under his father and under Vice-Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot. In 1780 he was appointed commander of HMS Endymion, cruising in British waters.

In 1783, at the end of the American War of Independence, he was placed on half-pay, and married in July 1788. In February 1793 following the declaration of war with France, Captain Gambier was appointed to command the seventy four-gun HMS Defence under Lord Howe. As captain of the Defence Gambier saw action at the battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794, gaining the distinction of being the first ship to break through the enemy line. He subsequently received the Naval Gold Medal and was appointed Colonel of Marines (a sinecure involving no duties, but excellent pay).


Lord of the Admiralty: In 1795, he was promoted to rear-admiral and appointed as one of the Lords of the Admiralty. He gained promotion to vice-admiral in 1799, and in 1801, was appointed commander of the 98-gun HMS Neptune and third-in-command of the Channel Fleet under Admiral William Cornwallis. From 1802-04, he served as Governor of Newfoundland and Commander-in-Chief of all ships appointed there. He then returned to the Admiralty, and was promoted to full Admiral in 1805.

In 1807 Gambier volunteered to command the naval forces sent as part of the campaign against Copenhagen. He saw action in the 2nd Battle of Copenhagen in flagship HMS Prince of Wales. Together with General Lord Cathcart, he oversaw the bombardment of Copenhagen from the 2nd of September until the Danes capitulated after three days (an incident that brought Gambier some notoriety in that the assault included a bombardment of the civilian quarter). Prizes included eighteen ships of the line, twenty-one frigates and brigs and twenty-five gunboats together with a large quantity of naval stores for which he received official thanks from Parliament, and on the 3rd of November 1807 a peerage, becoming Baron Gambier, of Iver in the County of Buckingham.



Sternhold and Hopkins at Sea or a Slave out of Time


A satirical print depicting Gambier and Cochrane during the Battle of Basque Roads; Gambier is shown reading the Bible, ignoring Cochrane's request to pursue the French fleet


Battle of the Basque Roads: In 1808 Lord Gambier was appointed to command the Channel Fleet. In April 1809 he chased a squadron of French ships that had escaped from Brest into the Basque Roads. He called a council of war in which Lord Cochrane was given command of the inshore squadron, and who subsequently led the attack. Gambier refused to commit the Channel Fleet after Cochrane's attack, using explosion vessels that encouraged the French squadron to warp further into the shallows of the estuary. This action resulted in the majority of the French fleet running aground at Rochefort.

Lord Gambier was content with the blockading role played by the offshore squadron. Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey, who had commanded "Fighting Temeraire" at the Battle of Trafalgar, believed they had missed an opportunity to inflict further damage upon the French fleet. He told Gambier "I never saw a man so unfit for the command of a fleet as Your Lordship." Lord Cochrane threatened to use his parliamentary vote against Gambier in retaliation for not committing the fleet to action. Gambier called for a court martial to examine his conduct. The court martial, on the 26th of July 1809 on Gladiator in Portsmouth, exonerated Gambier. Consequently, neither Harvey nor Cochrane were appointed by the Admiralty to command for the remainder of the war.


Later career: In 1813 Lord Gambier was part of the team negotiating the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States. He was a founding benefactor of Kenyon College in the United States, so the town that was founded with it, Gambier, Ohio is named after him. Mount Gambier, South Australia, the extinct volcano and the later city, and Gambier Island in British Columbia are also named after him.



James Gambier


Depiction in fiction: Lord Gambier appears as a minor character near the end of Flying Colours, a 1938 Horatio Hornblower novel by C.S. Forester. He is portrayed as an intensely religious man, nicknamed Dismal Jimmy by the men under his command.


Note: The modern garden pansy was developed by William Thompson, Lord Gambier's gardener at Iver, Buckinghamshire, in hybrids of Viola tricolor with other violas, in the years following 1813 to 1814.