Rear-Admiral Donald Campbell came of a race of fighters.
One brother was in the navy, and two lost their lives serving their
country in the army.
As a middy under Captain Western of the Scorpion, Donald
met with exciting adventures in the West Indies. Much fighting was going
on between the British and French fleets, and the boy found many
opportunities of distinguishing himself in the capture, one after the
other, of the French privateer La Victoire and some smaller vessels. On
being transferred to the flagship of Rear-Admiral Parker he was less
fortunate, the attack upon Leogane, in the island of Santo Domingo,
being repulsed, although after splendid fighting on the part of the
In the Russell, under Captain Trollope, he took part in
the battle of Camperdown, and came in for some of the hottest fighting
in the whole war. The broadsides poured upon their enemies by the Dutch
were tremendous, and the Russell was badly damaged. The brilliant
victory, however, more than made up
to the winning party for their hurts and the dangers
undergone, and the middies in their quarters afterwards were fully as
keen as the commanders in discussing the events of the fight and the
probable amount of the prize money.
Another stirring experience came to Donald when he was
serving on the Irish station on board the Galatea, the flagship of
The Spanish letter-of-marque PI Pensee was known to be
cruising in these waters with no good intention toward the British; and
the instructions were to keep watch upon her movements and capture her
One dark and stormy night in winter, a row of lights
right ahead showed the whereabouts of the Spanish vessel. The night was
pitch black, with great guns blowing. Any attempt to capture the
Spaniard would be full of danger and likely to fail; yet the opportunity
might never occur again.
The admiral mustered officers and crew and asked who
Donald Campbell stood forward at once. “I thought so,”
muttered the admiral to himself after a glance at the youth’s spirited
countenance. “Who will accompany Lieutenant Campbell?” he asked aloud.
Six men offered themselves, encouraged by the plucky
example of the officer.
“Good,” said the admiral; “push off quietly, my lads, and
take her by surprise.” A few other instructions were added, and the
adventurers stepped silently into a boat which was held ready by their
comrades. The work was one of no little difficulty and danger, the wind
blowing a gale and the pitching and rolling of the vessel making it hard
to steady the boat. A false step, and any one falling into the raging
waters would be swept beyond hope of rescue. .
The boat was swung from the booms and lowered slowly and
carefully over the side. In a short time its occupants were among the
dark foam-crested waves. No lights were allowed, and they had to make
their way to the dark hull which they saw dimly looming ahead when their
craft was tossed for a moment to the crest of some billow.
The men rowed with all their might, blinded, buffeted,
storm-tossed; and a fine spirit of daring filled each one among them.
Not a word could be exchanged, for the wind tore every sound out of
their mouths and bore it shrieking over the watery waste.
Slowly, toiling at the oars and straining every muscle,
the little crew brought their craft nearer and nearer. At last they were
close under the hull, trying to steady the boat and prevent her from
being washed against the side of the larger vessel.
Lieutenant Campbell rose to his feet. "Now,” he said,
taking a leap from the swaying boat.
The men divined rather than heard the signal. The
lieutenant caught a chain dangling from the vessel’s side, found
foothold somehow, and vanished in the darkness. One after the other the
men followed and appeared on the deck of the privateer, to the great
astonishment of the Spaniards, twenty in number. After making some show
of fight they surrendered, the darkness and the gale causing them to
think that the party was more numerous than it really was.
When the success of the endeavour became known on board
the Galatea, Admiral Byng uttered a few words of approval. His mode of
rewarding the leader was to single him out for the honour of taking
charge of the captured vessel.
“The most disagreeable job I ever had in my life,” Donald
used to say when relating the adventure ; for the Spanish crew spent the
time in quarrelling, each accusing his fellow of being the chief cause
of the Britons’ easy triumph. Fights were not infrequent, and Donald
heaved a sigh of relief when his troublesome duty was ended.
Being appointed first lieutenant on the frigate Garysfoot—Captains
George Mundy and Robert Fanshawe—our hero had another exciting adventure
off the coast of Norway. A French letter-of-marque having been
discovered hovering about, the crew of the Carysfoot took to their boats
one dark night, surrounded and captured her, and brought her home in
Not long afterwards Donald was sent to the West Indies in
charge of a large convoy, and found the opportunity for another daring
deed. While stationed in Tobago he was cruising about the islands, when
he espied two French merchantmen lying close under the batteries of
Barcelona on the Caraccas coast.
Donald thought it would be a fine blow to the French if
he could capture the vessels. The danger of the undertaking made him
particularly wish to do it; and he determined to make the attempt. In a
little schooner, accompanied by the sloop Curieux, he sailed right under
the batteries, boarded the ships and carried them off regardless of the
shots fired by the Barcelona garrison, who were only just recovering
from their surprise.
Acting commander of the Lily, he was cruising off the
coast of South America when the Leander hove' in sight with the rebel
general Miranda on board. The Lily at once gave chase, and after an
exciting pursuit came up with the Leander. The fight was short but
sharp, and at its close Donald went on board the captured vessel and
received the sword of the general.
While he was still in West Indian waters General Miranda
succeeded in making his escape, and once more sailed south to stir up a
revolt. The Lily / was sent in chase. Miranda was taken prisoner, and
Donald received the thanks of the governor, council, and merchants of
His next appointment was to the command of the Pert. Off
the coast of Margarita the vessel was caught in a hurricane. Her masts
went by the board ; she drifted, and in spite of every effort made by
officers and crew, struck upon a rock. The breakers dashing over her
soon made the Pert a complete wreck ; twelve of the crew were swept from
the rigging and drowned, and the rest saved themselves with difficulty.
For this misadventure Captain Donald was
court-martialled, but was honourably acquitted of all blame. Appointed
to the command of the Rosalinda he defended the trade of Trinidad and
conveyed the mail and specie from Jamaica to England.
Service in defending the fisheries of Labrador and the
shores of Newfoundland was his next duty, when he watched the French
like a true British bull-dog. When peace was made Donald Campbell became
a rear-admiral, and served in home waters; but he never ceased to regret
the days of hard work and peril when he met with such grand adventures
fighting the enemies of his country.
Another brave family was that of Colonel John Campbell of
Melfort in Perthshire. Five sons distinguished themselves as soldiers,
and Patrick rendered important services to his country in the navy. Born
in 1773, he became a lieutenant at the age of twenty-one, and five years
later, being in command of the Dart sloop of war, twenty guns and a
hundred and thirty men, he assisted at the capture of four armed
In July of the following year, a squadron of French
frigates being sighted in Dunkirk roads, Captain Inman of
the Andromache was sent with Patrick Campbell of the Dart, two
gun-brigs, and four fire-ships, to capture or destroy the vessels.
Taking advantage of a dark night, Patrick ran the
gauntlet of the whole squadron. As the Dart passed she was hailed in
French, the speaker desiring to know what part she came from.
“De Bordeaux,” replied Patrick promptly.
"What is that convoy right astern?” was the next
“Je ne sais pas” answered Patrick; and he sailed right
into the enemy’s fleet without a shot being fired. When the Dart reached
the innermost vessel but one, the French crew, taking the alarm, opened
fire, to which she responded with a doubleshotted broadside of her
32-pounder carronades. She then passed on and boarded the innermost
vessel, the Desirze frigate of thirty-eight guns and three hundred men,
running her bowsprit between the foremast and forestay of the vessel.
The first lieutenant, James McDermeit, then rushed on to
the 1 forecastle of the Desiree, followed by a division of seamen and
marines, and in a few minutes the vessel was carried, but not before the
lieutenant was severely wounded in the arm.
“We have her,” he shouted across to the Dart; “but come
if you can; these beggars look like showing fight.”
Patrick replied by swinging his vessel alongside the Desireey and
the second lieutenant sprang on board with another division of men.
A desperate resistance was made by the French, who
rallied at the after hatchway; but they were completely repulsed, and
getting the frigate under sail, the second lieutenant carried her out of
The fire-ships were then sent among the other frigates,
which escaped by running themselves ashore, while the smaller British
craft cannonaded the French gunboats. The entire fleet was thus thrown
out of action at a cost to the British of only six killed and wounded,
while the loss to the enemy was more than a hundred on the Desirse alone.
This exploit, which Lord St. Vincent declared to have
been one of the finest instances of gallantry on record, won for Patrick
Campbell his post rank and appointment to the Ariadne frigate.
Before the campaign of Trafalgar he was in command of
the Doris, one of a squadron watching the French coast under Sir Thomas
Graves. The French fleet was at Rochelle, and their admiral had just
received sailing orders when Graves found it necessary to put into
Quiberon Bay to water, leaving Patrick Campbell to keep watch with
Running into Rochelle Bay, Patrick found the French busy
with preparations for setting sail. Crowding on canvas, he had hardly
left the bay when he encountered the Felix, one of Graves’ squadron, who
informed him of the admiral’s whereabouts. Campbell immediately sped
northward, leaving the Felix on guard.
Two days later the French squadron put out of port—one
three-decker, two seventy-fours, and five cruisers. The
watchful Felix shadowed them all day, then left them under cover of
night and ran for Quiberon.
In the distance the Doris had also sighted the French
fleet, and crowding on sail, to the serious damage of her rigging,
reached Quiberon only to find that the English had sailed.
Hearing that the fleet was in the direction of Belle lie,
Patrick Campbell tried to bear out of the bay, but ran his vessel upon a
sunken rock. All night the men worked at the pumps, and in the morning
the Doris was afloat once more.
Up came her plucky consort, reporting the enemy’s
Patrick grew desperate. A south-westerly gale was rising,
and Graves was certain to take refuge in Quiberon Bay, where he would be
bottled up while the enemy sailed past unmolested.
Crowding on sail, Patrick tried to bring his vessel out
of harbour, but she was too badly damaged. Fresh leaks sprang; the gale
twisted her about like a plaything; and Campbell, chafing with
impatience, was obliged to anchor. Two days later the Doris foundered,
and had to be abandoned, her officers and crew being taken off and
received on board the Tonnant.
But Patrick’s misadventures were not yet at an end. Some
days later he was on his way with Captain Jervis to visit the admiral in
his flag-ship, when the boat upset and his friend was drowned, Campbell
risking his own life in the endeavour to save him.
His next service was in the Mediterranean, when Patrick
Campbell, in command of the Unit/, captured several privateers, and
landing his crew, stormed and destroyed the batteries of Languille.
In 1815, the year in which he was made a C.B., he
commanded a company of seamen on shore at the taking of the Cape of Good
For his services Patrick Campbell was made a K.C.B. and
vice-admiral. He was a man of extraordinary bravery as well as kindness
and humanity, and his old friend and chief, Lord St. Vincent, . used to
call him “the little man with the big heart.”