Charles Douglas

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Rear Admiral Sir Charles Douglas, 1st Baronet of Carr (b. 1727 – d. 17 March 1789) was a descendant of the Earls of Morton and a distinguished British naval officer. According to Richard O'Neill's Patrick O'Brian's Navy, he is the "Captain Douglas" under whom Jack Aubrey served as a midshipman aboard HMS Resolution, although there is no record of Douglas actually commanding that vessel.


Early career

Douglas was born in Carr, Perthshire, Scotland to Charles Ayton Douglas and Christian Hepburn of Kinglassie. Little is known of his early life, although it is established that he could speak six languages. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of twelve, and spent some time in the Dutch service before resuming his career with the British. He was a midshipman at the siege of Louisbourg in 1745. In 1753, he was promoted to lieutenant, became a commander in 1759, and by the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, was captain of HMS Syren. While commanding the Syren, Sir Charles reported the attack on St. John's, Newfoundland and took part in recapturing Newfoundland.

Following the war, Sir Charles went to St. Petersburg to help re-organize the Russian navy for Catherine the Great in 1764-1765.

American Revolutionary War years

After the Revolutionary War broke out in America in 1775, Douglas was given command of a squadron to relieve Quebec from the siege. When he arrived at the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he decided to ram the ice and successfully made his way up the river, surprising the Americans and putting them on the run. He was also in charge of creating a navy from scratch to fight on Lake Champlain, and that small fleet routed the Americans under Benedict Arnold. In 1777, he was made a baronet for his service in Quebec. As captain of HMS Stirling Castle, he took part in the Battle of Ushant.

In 1781, Sir Charles became Captain-of-the-Fleet for George Brydges Rodney, 1st Baron Rodney, and was with Rodney on his flagship, Formidable, at the Battle of the Saintes off Dominica, where on 12 April 1782, they defeated the Comte de Grasse by breaking the French line. Douglas is credited by many, including Sir Charles Dashwood (a midshipman present at the time who later became an admiral himself), for having the idea for the maneuver, but it is a subject of much debate.

Following the war, he was the Commander-in-Chief of North America at the Halifax, Nova Scotia Station, but resigned due to a conflict. In 1787 he became a rear-admiral, and in 1789 was once again made commander of the Nova Scotia station, but died of apoplexy before taking his post.

Naval career

  • 1740 Joined Royal Navy at age twelve
  • 1745 Midshipman at Siege of Louisbourg
  • 1747 Past-Midshipman on HMS Centurion
  • 1753 Lieutenant in the Royal Navy
  • 1759 Promoted to Commander; Commander of HMS Boscawen
  • 1761 Made Post-Captain; Commander of HMS Unicorn, 28 guns
  • 1762 Commander of HMS Syren, 20 guns, Newfoundland
  • 1763 Commander of HMS Tweed, 32 guns, Newfoundland
  • 1767 Commander of HMS Emerald, 32 guns
  • 1770 Commander of HMS St. Albans, 61 guns
  • 1775 Commander of HMS Isis, 50 guns, Quebec
  • 1776 Commodore in charge of building Lake Champlain fleet
  • 1777 Commander of HMS Stirling Castle, 64 Guns
  • 1778 Commander of HMS Duke, 98 guns, Channel Fleet
  • 1781 Captain-of-the-Fleet of Sir George Rodney, flagship HMS Formidable, West Indies
  • 1783 Commodore and Commander-in-Chief of Halifax Station, HMS Assistance, 50 guns, HMS Hermione, 32 guns
  • 1787 Promoted to Rear-Admiral
  • 1789 Commander-in-Chief of North American Station, HMS London Man, 50 guns

Personal life

Douglas was married three times: first to a Dutch woman called Uranie Lidie Marteilhe, with whom he had a son and a daughter; second to Sarah Wood of Yorkshire, the mother of Sir Howard Douglas; and third to a woman named Jane, daughter of John Baillie. There is a great deal of confusion regarding the identity of Sir Charles' third wife, whose last name has been variously reported as Baillie, Grew, and Brisbane. It appears that some sources have mistaken his sister, Helena Baillie, for his third wife because she raised his younger children while he was at sea. The name Helen Brisbaine is also an error based on a mistake in The Scottish Nation (1862) where it says she was married to Admiral Sir Charles Douglas when, in fact, she was the wife of Admiral Sir James Douglas.[1] When his eldest daughter, Lydia Mariana, married Rev. Richard Bingham against his wishes, he disinherited her. Following his death, Lydia and her husband sued for a share of his estate, and the case was appealed until finally being decided against them in the House of Lords in 1796. The case is made famous because of a letter Lydia had written to Adam Smith, a friend and distant relative of Sir Charles, requesting his assistance in reconciling the father and daughter.


Sir Charles was known as a mechanical genius [2], and many of his suggestions for improvements on naval vessels, including the substitution of flintlocks for matches, were adopted by the Admiralty for the entire Royal Navy.

He was succeeded as Baronet of Carr by his sons, Vice-Admiral Sir William Henry Douglas, 2nd Baronet, and General Sir Howard Douglas, 3rd Baronet, who became a General, lieutenant-governor of New Brunswick, MP for Liverpool, and Lord High Chancellor of the Ionian Islands.

Both Douglastown and Douglas, Nova Scotia, are named after him. The song “Caillich Odhar” was composed by Nathaniel Gow in his honor.

In the Canon

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "The Reverse of the Medal and The Nutmeg of Consolation"  follow.

As a midshipman aboard HMS Resolution, Aubrey was disrated by Captain Douglas and turned before the mast where he spent some months as a foremast-hand. He originally tells Maturin that the cause of his disrating was that he kept a girl[1] in the cable tier. In The Reverse of the Medal, however, Captain Goole, who was himself a midshipman on Resolution at the time, tells his wife that it was due to another liberty Aubrey took with the rule. "He stole most of the captain's dish of tripe by means of a system of hooks and tackles."[2]


  • Encyclopedia Brittanica (1911)
  • Fullom, S.W. Life of General Sir Howard Douglas (1865)
  • Clark, William Bell. Naval Documents of the American Revolution, vol. 3-6 (1968-1971)
  • Douglas, Percy. History of the Family Douglas, vol. I.
  • Paton, Thomas S., Reports of Cases Decided in the House of Lords, Upon Appeal from Scotland, from 1753 to 1813, vol. III (1853)
  • The Complete Baronetage
  • Burke's Peerage and Baronetage (1938)

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