Clan Coutts Society

Clan Coutts Society

Coutts Crawford (x2)

James Coutts Crawford‬

For his son, the naval officer and New Zealand official, see Coutts Crawford.

 James Coutts Crawford (20 July 1760 – 10 May 1828) was an officer in the Royal Navywho served during the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary andNapoleonic Wars.

Crawford first went to sea aboard merchant vessels, trading with North America, before joining the navy during the American War of Independence. He saw action on shore on several occasions, distinguishing himself in the defence of Savannah and the siege of Charleston. Returning from North America with despatches, he was given a hired ship and acted in support of the British defences during the Great Siege of Gibraltar. During this conflict he was heavily engaged on numerous occasions with Spanish gunboats, and came to the attention of Roger Curtis, later to become a prominent naval officer. After a period of unemployment following the end of the American War of Independence, Curtis saw to it that Crawford was offered a position in the fleet during the Spanish Armament. When war was averted, Crawford went out to the East Indies for several years on personal business.

While returning to Britain after the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, Crawford's ship was captured by the French. He was kept as a prisoner of war until 1797, when he was able to return to the navy and joined the flagship of his old patron, Sir Roger Curtis. After two years in this post, he was given his own ship, which he commanded until the end of the French Revolutionary Wars. Promoted to post-captain in 1802, he was again unemployed for a time, until being given command of various frigates, at first supporting the Spanish in the Peninsular War, but later being sent to the East Indies. Here Crawford took part in the Invasion of Java in 1811, before returning to Britain. He went on half-payas the wars with France drew to a close, and died, still a post-captain, in 1828.

Family and early life [edit]

Crawford was born at Dundee on 20 July 1760, the son of James Crawford and his wife Helen, née Coutts. Helen was a cousin of the owners of the large London banking firmCoutts.[1][2] He initially went to sea aboard merchant ships, making several voyages to trade with the American colonies of Virginia and North and South Carolina, before joining the navy in April 1777.[3]

American War of Independence [edit]

North America [edit]

His first posting was as a midshipman aboard the sloop HMS Vigilant, then serving off the North American coast under the command of Lieutenant John HenryVigilant was armed with heavy cannon for supporting shore-based operations during the American War of Independence. Crawford served aboard Vigilant until late in 1777, when Henry was appointed to command the 20-gun HMS Fowey, upon which Crawford moved with his captain to the new ship.[2] He continued as midshipman until one of the ship's lieutenants was wounded during operations around Boston. Henry then appointed him acting lieutenant on 24 October 1778.[1]

Crawford took part in several important battles during the remainder of the war, commanding a battery of Fowey's guns that had been landed to defend Savannah duringits siege.[1] The besieging forces were eventually repulsed and for his good service there, Crawford was mentioned in the despatches written by Captain Henry, and the commander of the land forces, General Augustine Prévost.[4] Fowey then moved to support the Siege of Charleston, which ended in the capitulation of the city to the British.[1] Following this success, Captain Henry was again transferred, taking over command of the newly capturedHMS Providence, with orders to take her back to Britain carrying despatches. Crawford again accompanied Henry, still with the rank of acting-lieutenant.[1][2]

Gibraltar [edit]

Providence was placed out of commission shortly after her arrival in Britain, and Crawford reverted to his former rank of midshipman. He spent two months serving aboard the 100-gun HMS Britannia, the flagship of Vice-Admiral George Darby, until April 1781 when Darby gave him command of an armed vessel, the 5-gun Repulse.[4] Repulse had been fitted with Spanish-made 26 pounders, and was based at Gibraltar during the great siege. The siege was intensified about this time, with the Spanish making determined efforts to oust the British.[1][2] On 7 August 1781 he played an important role in the defence of the brig-rigged HMS Helena, which had been becalmed in the entrance of the Bay of Gibraltar. The Spanish sent 14 gunboats from Algeciras to attack her, against which the senior British officer, Roger Curtis, dispatched Crawford's Repulse, and another armed vessel, the Vanguard, to defend her.[4] Despite the superior Spanish numbers, the three British vessels were able to fight off the gunboats and Helena was towed into harbour.[4] After thirteen months commanding Repulse, often closely engaged with Spanish gunboats, Crawford was appointed acting first lieutenant of the 32-gun HMS Brilliant.[2]


The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782, by John Singleton Copley. Depicting the September assault, which Crawford served throughout.

All the previous assaults having failed to capture Gibraltar, a Franco-Spanish forced launched the biggest assault yet on the fortifications, on 13 September 1782. Anticipating the assault, and the danger to shipping, the British scuttled Brilliant, and Crawford went ashore to serve with the naval brigade encamped at Europa Point under Curtis. He served as Curtis's brigade major during the assault, which was eventually repulsed.[5] With the attack decisively defeated, the sunken Brilliant was re-floated within a few days and Crawford resumed his post aboard her, serving under Curtis. He remained her until October 1782, when he was moved to the recently captured Spanish ship of the line San Miguel, which had run aground off Gibraltar and forced to surrender.[6] The Spanish made several attempts to recapture or destroy her, sending flotillas against her on 12 November and 18 December. Both attempts failed, though several days later the San Miguel was blown from her anchorage and had to be run aground. She stayed in British hands for the remainder of the war. San Miguel was eventually sailed to Britain under the command of Sir Charles Knowles, and Crawford joined Roger Curtis aboard the Brilliant in March 1783.[7] His lieutenant's commission was confirmed by the Admiralty on 10 August 1783, but with the conclusion of the American War of Independence and the drawdown of the navy, there was little service available. Crawford does not appear to have served at sea for some time after his commission.[6][7][8]

Spanish Armament and French Revolutionary Wars [edit]

Crawford's former service with Curtis, now Sir Roger Curtis following his knighthood for his service at Gibraltar, brought dividends during the Spanish Armament. As the threat of war with Spain loomed, Curtis, by now captain of the fleet to Admiral Lord Howerecommended Crawford to Howe. Howe took Crawford aboard his flagship, the 100-gunHMS Queen Charlotte. The crisis passed without breaking into open war, and Crawford took a period of absence from the navy, going out to the East Indies where he attended to his personal affairs.[7] He took passage back to Britain aboard a merchant ship at some point after the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars, but the ship was captured by a French warship en route.[6][8] He was held as a prisoner of war until being exchanged in March 1797, and allowed to return to Britain. Once there he was appointed lieutenant aboard the 98-gun HMS Prince, which was at this time the flagship of Crawford's old patron, now Rear-Admiral Sir Roger Curtis, with the Channel Fleet.[7] He remained with Curtis until his promotion to commander on 14 February 1799, and his subsequent appointment to command the 14-gun brig HMS Childers in March that year.[6][8] He spent the rest of the war commanding her, principally off the British coast, and was promoted to post-captain on 29 April 1802.[7]

Napoleonic Wars [edit]

After a long period without a ship, Crawford was assigned to the 24-gun HMS Championin 1808.[9] He commanded her off the Spanish coast during the Peninsular War, supporting Spanish patriots against the French forces, later moving to the 32-gunHMS Venus to carry out the same service.[10] During operations off Vigo Crawford arranged for the capitulation of the French garrison of the fort there, which caused his senior officer to write approvingly of his "liberal attention and zealous services".[10] Vigo was then besieged by a French army led by Marshal Michel Ney, causing Crawford to land a party of seamen and marines, and lead them against the French in defence of the city. The French were defeated at the Battle of Puente Sanpayo and forced back towardsLugo.[6][8]

Batavia, on the island of Java, target of the British force in mid-1811

Crawford commissioned the 38-gun HMS Hussar in late 1810 and sailed for the East Indies in February 1811. He served at the reduction of Java between August and September 1811.[11][12] In 1813 he took command of the 36-gun HMS Modeste and on 6 February 1813 captured the 14-gun privateer Furet off Sicily.[6][8] Modeste was put out of commission towards the end of the wars and Crawford went on half-pay. He does not appear to have served at sea again.[10]

Family and later life [edit]

James Coutts Crawford, a naval officer like his father, and later a prominent citizen of New Zealand

Crawford was twice married, his first wife was Anne Duncan, with whom he had a daughter, Mary. Mary married the naval officer Henry Duncan in 1823. Crawford's second wife, Jane, was the eldest daughter of Vice-Admiral John Inglis. The couple had a son together, James Coutts Crawford, better known as Coutts Crawford.[13] Captain James Coutts Crawford died at Liverpool on 10 May 1828, at the age of 67. He had been travelling to London, but was taken ill and died after a few days.[2][3]


James Coutts Crawford

In 1838 Crawford sailed on the Coromandel to Sydney where, accompanied by an overseer, he drove a herd of cattle to Adelaide, one of the first to make the overland journey. He sailed from Australia in November1839 on the Success, landing at Korohiwa, Titahi Bay, New Zealand, and after visiting Kapiti and Mana islands walked to Port Nicholson (Wellington). He visited Queen Charlotte Sound and French Pass, returning to Port Nicholson just after the arrival of the first immigrant ships. Early in March 1840 he returned to Sydney to purchase horses and cattle for a property he had bought from the New Zealand Company. On Watts Peninsula, later named Miramar, he established the Glendavar cattle farm. He also acquired land in Auckland.

Crawford was active in local affairs in Wellington. He seconded the motion asking for Governor William Hobson's recall in 1841, and promoted the formation of a cattle company and an association to consider ways of dressing flax for export. In 1841 he returned to England, and on 29 November 1843 married Sophia Whitley Deans Dundas at Kintbury, Berkshire. Returning to New Zealand in 1846, he developed his farm near Wellington and constructed a tunnel, apparently the first in New Zealand, to drain Burnham Water into Evans Bay. He explored Wairarapa with Charles Clifford and Edward Stafford, and was present when Governor George Grey arrested Te Rauparaha.

Crawford later returned to England, where Sophia Crawford died in 1852, leaving two children. On 28 July 1857 he married Jessie Cruickshank McBarnet, at Forres, Elgin, Scotland, and returned once more to New Zealand. He settled permanently in Wellington, where he and Jessie Crawford raised three sons. He expanded his cattle farm, bought land at Ahuriri, Wairarapa and the Hutt Valley, invested in mining companies in New Zealand and Australia and was active in local affairs. Interested in geology, he was appointed provincial geologist in 1861, and from 1862 to 1864, in a search for mining potential and routes for road and rail communication, explored the Wanganui and Rangitikei rivers, the central plateau as far as Tokaanu, Northern Wairarapa and crossed the Tararua Range. His reports made a significant contribution to the knowledge of the province.

Crawford held many official positions. He was a member of the Legislative Council from 1859 to 1867, and was appointed resident magistrate in 1864 and sheriff of Wellington in 1866, holding both posts until his resignation in 1878. In 1864 he established and presided over the Resident Magistrate and Warden's Court at Havelock in Pelorus Sound for some months.

Keenly interested in scientific studies, Crawford was a member of the Geological Society of London, a corresponding member of the Geological Society of Edinburgh and the Imperial and Royal Geological Society of Vienna, president of the Wellington Philosophical Society and a governor of the New Zealand Institute. The numerous papers published in the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute illustrate the breadth of his interests, ranging through botany, geology, engineering, language and agriculture. He also published pamphlets on such diverse topics as free trade, federation with Australia, reform of English spelling and the introduction of railways. In 1880 he published Recollections of travel in New Zealand and Australia, based on the diaries kept during his expeditions. He served as a captain in the 1st Lanark Militia and in 1864 was appointed captain on the unattached list, Wellington Militia. A member of various cultural organisations, he was also a foundation member of the Wakefield and Pickwick clubs. He travelled widely and his large collection of sketches and watercolours are of great historic interest.

Crawford was a handsome, talented and energetic man, whose practical approach, particularly to engineering problems, was advanced for his time. Although he did not reach the highest positions, his ability and personality made an impact on the community and he was held in high esteem. Mt Crawford bears his name. He died in London on 8 April 1889.

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