Robert Faulknor the younger
|Robert Faulknor the younger|
Printed memorial to Robert Faulknor,
by H. D. Gardner, published 1795 (after James Roberts)
Off Pointe à Pitre, Guadeloupe
|Years of service||1777–1795|
|Commands held||Pluto, Zebra, Rose, Blanche|
|Battles/wars||American War of Independence,
West Indies theatre of the
War of the First Coalition
|Relations||Jonathan Faulknor the elder (brother)|
Robert Faulknor the younger (1763–1795) was an 18th-century Royal Navy officer, part of the Faulknor naval dynasty. He was court-martialled (but acquitted) and died in an action off Guadeloupe in the eastern Caribbean Sea.
He was born in Northampton, the eldest of the two sons of Robert Faulknor the elder and Elizabeth (née Ashe). Sometime after that the family moved to Dijon, France, where they stayed until Robert the elder died there on 9 May 1769, when his widow and the children returned to Northampton. Robert and his brother were enrolled in a grammar school, with Robert then entering the Royal Naval Academy, Portsmouth, in 1774, aged eleven.
Robert completed his term at the Academy in March 1777 and joined HMS Isis (50 guns), under the Hon. William Cornwallis, stationed in North America. He then followed Cornwallis to HMS Bristol (50 guns) and then HMS Lion (64 guns), seeing many engagements in 1779/80. From December 1780 to March 1783 Robert served in HMS Princess Royal (98 guns) and HMS Britannia (98 guns), leading Rear-Admiral Sir Joshua Rowley to call him ‘a young man of great merit’. After the American War of Independence, Robert Faulknor was one of a lucky few officers to gain peacetime commissions and was put in command of the sloop HMS Merlin after the Britannia's paying-off in March 1783 and then, from December 1783, to the HMS Daphne (20 guns).
He was appointed to serve in the Impregnable (98 guns) during the Nootka Sound crisis in May 1790 and six months later he was promoted to commander, although it was April 1791 before he got his first command at that rank, (the fireship Pluto). That command ended in September 1791, after which he remained on half pay until the outbreak of the War of the First Coalition against France in 1793.
After the outbreak of war, he was given the sloop Zebra, in June 1793, stationed in the English Channel and then - through his mother's lobbying of Lord Chatham - attached to Sir John Jervis's expedition to the West Indies. There, in the February 1794 attack on Martinique, HMS Zebra and HMS Asia (64 guns) were ordered to give covering fire for the landing of ground troops and seamen (from other smaller ships, under the direct command of Captains Riou and Nugent) by anchoring close under the walls of Fort St Louis. But - when the Asia failed to reach her allotted position - Faulknor instead took the Zebra even closer to the fort, scaled its walls at the head of his men and had a lucky escape when a wooden cartouche (powder cartridge) box strapped to his waist was struck by grapeshot but left him unharmed. Riou and Nugent's force had probably already entered the fort by this point, but Jervis witnessed Faulknor's action, publicly praised him for it and promoted him captain of the frigate Rose. He then took command of the heavier frigate Blanche (32 guns) several months later, (as the expedition moved to attack the island of Guadeloupe).
On 21 April he led a party of his seamen during the attack on Fort Fleur d'Epée on Guadeloupe. He was attacked by two French soldiers, lost his sword and knocked to the ground. Midshipman John Maitland fought off the French and Faulknor was finally rescued by his own men. During the attack on Guadeloupe, Faulknor became involved in an angry altercation with an engineer who had criticised the battery erected by Faulknor's men, during which he ran through a quartermaster of the Boyne (98 guns, and Jervis's flagship), with his sword for making some form of contemptuous comment, killing him instantly.
Faulknor's own seamen working on the battery, immediately refused to serve under him. A mutiny was only averted by the intercession of other officers and by Faulknor's immediate court martial, at which he was acquitted. Faulknor was remorseful, but maintained that he had been provoked, and for the rest of his life he was morose and restless, pacing his cabin at night. Waiting for his court martial, he wrote to Lieutenant Hill of the Zebra that he was less concerned "for my own fate, than [for] that of being accessory to the death of any human being not the natural enemy of myself or my country ... the hasty and sudden punishment I unhappily inflicted on the spot will be a source of lasting affliction to my mind."
The Blanche was detached in December 1794 to cruise off the island of Desirade. That island was held by the French and on 4 January 1795, the Blanche 's crew discovered the French frigate Pique off Pointe à Pitre, Guadeloupe. The French ship at first seemed to be trying to avoid an action, but the two ships eventually came to close quarters in the early hours of 5 January, in an engagement of over 3¾ hours in which the Blanche lost her main and mizzen masts. One and a quarter hours in, the Pique ran her bow on board the Blanche, making her unable to bring any of her guns to bear on the Blanche and (once the English crew had rapidly lashed the French ship's bowsprit to the remains of the Blanche's main mast) unable to manoeuvre. Faulknor was wounded, but not fatally, and continued to direct the action until two musket shots killed him. Lieutenant Frederick Watkins took over command. Two hours later the Pique surrendered. Faulknor was buried the day after his death on the Isles des Saintes and following news of his death, he was commemorated with a memorial in St Paul's Cathedral, London.
- Tracy, Nicholas (2006). Who's who in Nelson's Navy: 200 Naval Heroes. London: Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1-86176-244-5.
- The Gentleman's Magazine. F. Jefferies. 1837.
- J. Ralfe, The naval biography of Great Britain, 3 (1828), 310
- Tracy. Who's who in Nelson's Navy. p. 238.
- Gentleman's Magazine. p. 654.
- He was known as ‘fiery, fierce, and ungoverned in his passions’ - even Faulknor himself wrote on one occasion of his own ‘unfortunate rashness and impetuosity’ - W. Gilpin, Memoir of Josias Rogers, esq. (1808), 113; Ralfe, 3.314
- Ralfe, 3.314