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The North and the Navy

The contribution of the North of Scotland to the Navy has never been tackled, yet Mr James Grant, the county clerk of Banff, has made a good start in his book on  the “Old Scots Navy,” recently issued by the Navy Records Society. But the attitude of Scotland to the Navy after the Union have scarcely been touched. While it is true that Scotland has not been represented in the Navy as some parts of England have been, yet some Scotsmen, like Duncan and the northern Sir Charles Middleton, and like Lord Barham (1726-1813)— a descendant of the Middletons of King’s College—who was the real strategist at the back of Nelson, played a great part. The future historian of shipping at Aberdeen will include a chapter on the Navy. Meantime it is well to preserve all references to the Navy as affecting the north.

One of the most interesting items I have come across is from the minutes of the Town Council of Banff, transcribed for me by Mr James Grant. This reference is peculiarly interesting as it throws light on Captain George Duff, one of Nelson’s captains, who fell at Trafalgar. Duff, who was born in 1764, was the second son of James Duff of Banff (1729-1804), who was the fourth son of the first Alexander Duff of Hatton (1688-1753). He joined the Navy at the ago of 13, on H.M.S. Panther, then commanded by his grand uncle. Commodore (afterwards Admiral) Robert Duff, and in the course of his career served on the Martin (1790), the Ambuscade, the Vengeance, and the Mars (1804), on board which he was killed at Trafalgar. A full account of Duff will be found in the Taylers’ “Book of the Duffs,” pp. 260-7.The following minute in the Banff Town Council minutes, April 3, 1794, gives us a glimpse of Duff: —

“The Council, having got information of Capt. George Duff of the Navy, his being appointed to the command of the Ambuscade frigate, and also considering that Capt. Duff, as being a townsman, is entitled to every respect the Magistrates and Council can show him, as well as for promoting his Majesty’s service,

"Do therefore agree to offer a bounty of three guineas to every able-bodied seaman or two guineas to every able-bodied landsman who shall voluntary enter with Capt. George Duff on board the Ambuscade or any other ship to which Capt. Duff may be appointed, and residing within this burgh and liberties, or within the town of Macduff or parish of Gamrie, and that over and above every other bounty given by Government, upon such seaman 'being passed by. Capt. Duff or. approved off by any regulating officer appointed.

“And the Council appoint an advertisement to bo drawn up; and that the same be transmitted to Capt. Duff himself, to be insert in the Edinr. papers when he finds it proper, the expense of which shall be paid by the agent for the town. And in the letter to be transmitted to Capt. Duff to request him to write him so soon he means to insert the advertisement in the Edinr. papers, that the Council may order the like advertisement to be published in the ‘Aberdeen Journal.’”

“Banff, 8th April, 1795.—The Provost laid before the Council a printed copy of a Bill at present depending in Parliament for raising a certain number ot men, in the several counties and Royal boroughs of Scotland, for the service of his Majesty’s Navy; upon which it was resolved by the Council that they will use their utmost endeavour to raise the number of men which shall be rated on this borough, how soon the said Bill shall pass into a law; and in the meantime they authorise the chamberlain to publish advertisements in their names offering a bounty of fifteen guineas to each able-bodied man who shall enlist with him as a landsman in his Majesty’s Navy, one-third thereof to be paid in hand, and the other two-thirds how soon such men shall be mustered on board the ships to which they may be ordered.

“The Council recommend to the Provost in their name to write to Mr Brodie, their representative in Parliament, to attend to the passing of the said Bill into a law, and to take care that this borough shall not be rated at a higher proportion than conform to other boroughs in the district, which the Council think should be regulated by the same division as the public cess payable to Government by the Royal boroughs

“Mr Robinson laid before the Council a letter from Major Munro, commanding the second Battalion of the fourth regiment of Fencibles, offering a man to this Burgh to serve as one of their quota on the same terms as allowed to other landsmen; the Council recommend to the Provost to write Major Munro thanking him for this offer, and that they will accept thereof, but requesting the Major in the meantime to keep the man alluded to upon the strength of the regiment until the Bill shall pass into a Law. whereby they can be enabled to receive him.”

“Banff, 12th May, 1795.—The Provost laid before the Council a letter received by him from Mr Brodie, their Representative in Parliament, concerning the men appointed to be raised by this town for the Navy with a letter from the Lord Advocate to him on the same subject, the Council request the Provost to write Mr Brodie and to return him their best thanks for the trouble he has taken in the matter, but at same time to inform him that they cannot think of accepting his generous offer of paying any part of the bounty which must be given to the said men.”

Men for the Navy from the North

We do not, as a rule, connect the Navy with our part of the world; but at the end of the 18th century the North had to contribute its quota of (forced) men to the service. One of the earliest examples comes from Banff. On November 7, 1779, a town officer from Banff was sent to Aberdeen with a man “under guard" named John MacQueen, sent “as a sailor allotted for serving on board His Majesty's Navy on account of a man required from the Fishermen of this place." The magistrates asked a receipt for him, which duly came from William Scott, lieutenant commander of the tender Swan at Aberdeen, November 9, 1779. Scott calls the man M‘Ewen (not M’Queen), and his receipt runs thus:— “Received John M'Ewen in lew of fisherman's from Banff by ye hards of a Toun Officer from said place."

In a covering letter he adds— “I wish he had been a sailor, but will keep him now for His Majesty’s Service."

In 1795 an Act was passed “for raising a certain number of men in the several counties, stewartrics, royal burghs, and towns in that part of Great Britain called Scotland, for the Service of His Majesty’s Navy.” Under it, for instance, each burgh had to produce (under heavy penalties) a certain number of men, of which the following are excerpts:—

Inverurie, one man; Kintore, one man; Banff, seven men; Cullen, one man; Elgin, four men. The measure was administered on behalf of the Navy by a “regulating officer.” The official for Aberdeen and Banff in 1795 was Captain Alexander Mackay. Here is a list of the seven men produced by Banff, with the date of entry:—

William Kivkton (21), labourer, Banff (May 20); James M'Currach (22), weaver, Rathven (May 18) James Main (28), seaman, Rathven (May 11); William Monro (17), labourer, Rathven (May 26); Alexander Robertson (36), flax-dresser, Rathven (May 14); John Robs (22), labourer, Grange (May 20); James Thain (20),fisherman, Rathven (May 11).

On August 11, 1803, the Navy was represented by Lieut. John Sousby. Writing tothe Provost of Banff on this date from the Osenburgh revenue vessel at Montrose, he said: —

“Having received orders to enroll all the fishermen, passage-boatmen, ship carpenters, and shipwrights on the eastern coasts of Scotland, and to demand one man for every six of them for manning His Majesty’s Fleet, I am to beg you will have the kindness to communicate the same to those men that I shall be there on or about the 21st inst. for the above purpose.”

J. M. Bulloch.

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