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Napoleon, Nelson and the Knight

Sir Pulteney Malcolm

Period:
Georgian Period
Description:

Sir Pulteney Malcolm was a British naval officer. Although he was a key figure in the wars at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, he missed the battles of both Trafalgar and Waterloo! With a curious irony, he was responsible for guarding Napoleon during his final days on St Helena.

 

Pulteney Malcolm was born at Douglan, near Langholm, on 20 February 1768. He was the third son of George Malcolm of Burnfoot, Langholm, and his wife Margaret, the sister of Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley. He joined the navy in 1778, during the American Revolutionary War, serving on the Sybil which was commanded by his uncle, Captain Pasley. With Pasley he afterwards served on the Jupiter, being promoted to Lieutenant in 1783.

 

Admiral Nelson and the French Revolutionary Wars 1792 - 1802

 

 In 1804 Sir Pulteney Malcolm was serving on the Kent, which was part of a fleet blockading Toulon under the command of Admiral Nelson. However, he was almost immediately transferred to Naples, where he remained for the rest of the year. At the beginning of 1805 he joined the Donegal and was part of the fleet that pursued the Franco – Spanish fleet to the West Indies. On its return the Donegal became part of a fleet patrolling off Cadiz under the command of Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. On 17 October Donegal was sent to Gibraltar for water and a hurried refit. On the 20 October Malcolm learnt that the French fleet was leaving Cadiz. Although his ship was nearly dismantled he left Gibraltar and battled through a storm to rejoin the fleet. He arrived too late for the Battle of Trafalgar, but in time to give valuable assistance to the disabled ships and captured enemy boats. The Donegal captured the Rayo, which had tried to escape from Cadiz on the 23rd. During the night of the 24th, when some of the prisoners on board the French ship Berwick cut the cable and she almost broke up on the shore, the Donegal’s boats succeeded in saving a number of her men. She afterwards took charge of the captured Spanish ship Bahama, and brought her to Gibraltar. Writing to Sir Thomas Pasley on 16 December Admiral Collingwood said;

 

”Everybody was sorry Malcolm was not there [at Trafalgar], because everybody knows his spirit, and his skill would have acquired him honour. He got out of the Gut [of Gibraltar] when nobody else could, and was of infinite service to us after the action.”

 

Napoleon Bonaparte and the Napoleonic Wars 1803 - 1815

 

The Donegal continued to patrol off Cadiz until the close of the year, when she sailed for the West Indies and played an important part in the Battle of San Domingo on 6 February 1806. French and British ships met off the southern coast of the French-occupied Spanish colony of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean. The French squadron had sailed from Brest in December 1805 intending to raid British trade routes. British boarding parties captured the French vessels and set them on fire and Malcolm returned home in charge of the captured enemy ships. The Battle of San Domingo was the last large scale fleet engagement of the war. In 1808 Malcolm was convoying troops to the Iberian Peninsula where France was fighting Spain, Britain and Portugal for control. This war began when French armies crossed Spain and invaded Portugal in 1807 and then in 1808 turned on France’s ally, Spain. In 1809, still serving on the Donegal, Malcolm took part in the Battle of the Basque Roads. During the Peninsular War the Duke of Wellington was dependent on supplies arriving by sea. The French fleet in the Basque Roads tried to interrupt this, and to protect the convoys the Royal Navy maintained a blockade of the Basque Roads. On the night of 11 April 1809 the British attacked a squadron of French ships anchored in the Basque Roads, driving all but two of the French ships ashore.

 

Sir Pulteney Malcolm and The American War, 1812 – 1814

 

America declared war against Britain in 1812 for a variety of reasons, including the imposition of trade restrictions, American merchant sailors being impressed into the Royal Navy and British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion. Until 1814 the British Empire had adopted a defensive strategy, repelling multiple American invasions of Canadian provinces. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the British adopted a more aggressive stance, sending in large combat armies. Sir Pulteney Malcolm had been promoted to Rear Admiral on 4 December 1813, and in June 1814 he convoyed an army detachment commanded by Major General Robert Ross from Bordeaux to North America on the Royal Oak. In retaliation for the American looting of York, Upper Canada (now Toronto) in 1813, including the burning down of their Parliament buildings, Ross gave the order to burn the public buildings of Washington, including the White House in August 1814. The fire also raged through the buildings housing the Senate and the House of Representatives and the interiors of both buildings, including the Library of Congress, were destroyed.

 

Malcolm and Wellington at The Battle of Waterloo

 

 In 1797 Lieutenant Pulteney Malcolm was serving onboard the Sybille when she returned from the China seas to England. Among the passengers who boarded the ship in India was one Colonel Wellesley, later known as the Duke of Wellington. Lieutenant Malcolm and the Colonel became lifelong friends. Costly French defeats drained French military resources and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 resulted in a disastrous retreat. The tide started to turn in favour of the allies and in March 1814, Paris fell, the monarchy was returned and Napoleon went into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. In March 1815 Napoleon escaped and marched on the French capital, overthrowing Louis XVIII and beginning what became known as The Hundred Days War. Sir Pulteney Malcolm commanded a squadron in the North Sea, in co-operation with the army under the Duke of Wellington. Wellington and the Prussian General, von Blücher, assembled large armies close to the north eastern border of France, and when Napoleon attacked them, his brief second reign ended in the Battle of Waterloo. Although Malcolm and Wellington had met on the battlefield earlier in the day, by the time the battle begun Malcolm had been dispatched elsewhere!

 

Napoleon Bonaparte’s final days on St Helena

 

After his defeat the British imprisoned Napoleon on the remote Atlantic island of St Helena. Between 1816 and 1817 Sir Pulteney Malcolm was Commander-in-Chief on the Saint Helena station, especially appointed to enforce a rigid blockade of the island and to keep a close guard on Napoleon Bonaparte. The two men are believed to have become friends, developing considerable respect for each other. Sir Pulteney Malcolm became Vice-Admiral on 19 July 1821, and Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet from 1828 to 1831. In 1832 he commanded on the coast of Holland, with the fleets of France and Spain under his orders, and in 1833–4 was again Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. He attained the rank of Admiral of the Blue in 1837. He died at East Lodge, Enfield, London, on 20 July 1838.

 

A close friend recalled – “He was the comrade in arms of the gallant Nelson; and in the last action in which that great man was engaged, he commanded a ship which had the splendid distinction of being called the Happy Donegal. He had the friendship of the first general of the day (the Duke of Wellington). As a conqueror, he became the friend of the conquered. His flag was at St. Helena during the time Napoleon was there, and by the cordiality of his disposition and manners, he not only obtained the confidence, but won the affections of that great man, who, in his last moments, acknowledged his generosity and benevolence.”

 

 There have been two ships in the Royal Navy called HMS Malcolm in honour of Sir Pulteney Malcolm. The first was in service from 1919 to 1945 and the second from 1957 to 1978. There is a Point Malcolm in Australia which was named after him.

Materials/Media:
Lithograph
Source:
Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura
Accession number:
1936.14
Digital Number:
1936.14
Copyright:
Dumfries & Galloway Council