Captain Francis Burslem (1723- 1801)

     Name: Captain Francis Burslem RN      Sex: M

Individual Information

          Birth: 1723 - Packington, Leicestershire
        Baptism: 15 Jan 1723 - Packington, Leicestershire
          Death: 11 Dec 1801 - Youghal, Ireland 1
 Cause of Death: 


1. He was educated at Eton about Mar 1732. He was a King's Scholar.

2. He was commissioned Lieutenant, RN on 17 Sep 1743

3. In Between Jun 1744 and Jun 1746 he served in HMS Lark. 2

4. In 1755 he was in Ireland, recruiting men for the Navy. 3

5. He was commissioned Lieutenant-Commander, RN on 24 Jun 1757

6. In 1759 he had a new ship's surgeon, who kept a journal that was subsequently published. It reads, in part:. 4

"In 1759 I was superseded, and appointed to the Coventry, a new frigate commanded by Captain Burslem. Our first cruise in the Coventry was with Sir Edward Hawke in the bay, which lasted two months, but produced nothing remarkable, being tied to the fleet we had no chance of doing anything for ourselves. I found my situation much more comfortable than in the Diligence, the officers being of a superior cast ; but from the easy temper and very humane disposition of the captain, they complained of a great relaxation in naval discipline. The sailors had very great indulgences, especially in a harbour, so that the ship resembled a privateer more than a man-of-war. This want of sub-ordination was the more striking, as I had been accus-tomed to very different scenes, where things had been carried to the opposite extreme of tyranny and des-potism, particularly in the Monarque and Magnanime, where the nicest punctilio of rank and precedence was observed, and where the captain did not even walk on the same side of the quarter-deck with the admiral, the happy mean betwixt these two extremes is the most eligible path to be chosen in this as well as in other matters.

Being sent into Plymouth to dock and refit, which employed near six weeks, we sailed in November to rejoin the western squadron cruising off Brest; but meeting with strong gales from the westward, were ten days before we cleared the channel and got upon the station, being great part of this time under our courses. As we saw nothing concluded that they had been forced up the channel, upon which we returned to Plymouth Sound, where we found some of the ships, the rest with the admiral being in Torbay. Having got a fresh supply of beer and water, we sailed again for Brest; and the wind being favourable, we joined the fleet in twenty-four hours. On hailing the admiral, were informed that the French fleet were come out of Brest, and had been seen steering for Quiberon Bay, that he was then in pursuit of them, and ordered us to keep about two cables' length on his weather-bow, during the night, and to make the proper signals on discovering the enemy. We run all night in the bay, steering for Bellisle ; but the wind died away, and next day it was a dead calm, with a great swell from the westward, so that some of the large ships were obliged to get out their boats to tow clear of one another and prevent falling aboard ; but in the evening, the breeze freshening from the westward, the admiral carried a press of sail all the night, steering directly for the French shore ; and, about seven in the morning, the Vengeance frigate that was ahead let fly her top-gallant-sheets as a signal for seeing the enemy, which we instantly repeated; and immediately the signal was made by the admiral for a general chase, when every ship crowded all the sail she could carry to come up with the enemy.

As the gale increased from the western quarter, we gained fast upon the enemy, who, having passed Bellisle about ten in the morning, formed their line of battle ahead under a gentle sail standing to the south-east, consisting of twenty-two ships of the line with three flags. Conflans, the Commander-in-Chief, being in the centre in the Soleil Royale, Mr. Beaufremont in the van, and Monsieur St. Andre de Verger in the rear. The admiral (Hawke) now made the signal for the line of battle abreast, as the enemy seemed resolved to risk a general action ; but this occasioned the loss of two hours, as many of the large ships were far astern, although they crowded every rag of sail. During this delay a ship was seen under Bellisle standing towards the French fleet, which the Coventry immediately chased and cut off from joining Conflans. We thought to have had the honour of beginning the action, but alas I she proved a Dutchman, bound for Quiberon Bay. Our line being formed about one o'clock, and, bearing down upon the enemy, Conflans broke his line of battle, and steered directly for the shore. Our admiral instantly made the signal for a general chase, and about half-past two the signal to engage, as some of our headmost ships were then up with the enemy's rear. Lord Howe in the Magnanime had lead the chase the greatest part of the day, but was now passed by Sir Peter Dennis in the Dorsetshire and Captain Patrick Baird in the old Defiance, who run along the French line to windward, receiving the fire of every ship they passed, without making any return, intending to stop and engage the van of the enemy. Lord Howe followed in the same glorious career, but coming abreast of the rear-admiral in the Formidable, was disabled from going farther, his foreyard being carried away in the slings ; he immediately bore down upon the rear-admiral, and getting under his lee, opened a most tremendous fire from his thirty-two and twenty-fours. He was soon joined by Sir John Bentley in the Warspight, and in half an hour they made a dreadful havoc in the For-midable, whose fire began to slack, when the Superbe coming up, instead of pursuing ahead, must needs run betwixt Lord Howe and the French admiral, fell on board the Magnanime and forced her upon the Warspight, thus our three ships were entangled and totally prevented from continuing the action, but lay all of a heap alongside the Formidable, who might have torn them to pieces if she had not been almost a wreck her-self. As the three ships drove altogether, it was im-possible to get clear, till Sir John Bentley, being the senior officer (at the suggestion of Lord Howe) ordered the Superbe to let go an anchor, by which means the two other ships got clear, but were thrown out of the action by driving so far to leeward. By an officer from the Magnanime we afterwards learned that his lordship was so much incensed that he had threatened Captain Bentley with a court-martial for his bad conduct, etc., but for certain reasons he escaped.

The wind had now increased to a most violent storm, and the best part of our fleet had got into Quiberon Bay in pursuit of the enemy, who still kept flying away and keeping as much as possible to windward so as to avoid close action. As we lay about a musket shot to windward of our line we had a fine opportunity of observing the different manoeuvres, without running any risk, being furnished with excellent glasses. The evening began to set in, it being the 20th of November, and no ship was yet captured except the Formidable, which at last struck to the Resolution, Captain Speke, being dismasted, and having received the fire of almost every ship that passed, she was a mere wreck ; as we lay very near her, we were just going to take possession, when we saw a large ship overset, about two cables' length ahead, in a violent squall, and thinking it was one of our own ships, immediately flew to their assistance, and had men ready in the chains with ropes to save as many as possible ; her topmasts were still visible, and the sea covered with miserable wretches crying, "O Jesus! 0 Jesus!" But our ship had such fresh way in bringing to, that the poor creatures could not lay hold of the ropes as we ran through them; however, two boats were hoisted out, and we saved 15 that were hanging by the topmast shrouds, and the boats from the Torbay took up about the same number, which were all that escaped from the Thessee, a new ship of 74 guns and 750 men. Mr. Kepple had engaged her to leeward in the Torbay, and when the squall came on, both ships were laid on their beam ends, and the Frenchman's lee ports being open she immediately filled, and went down in about six fathom water. The Torbay escaped by putting before the wind, with six feet water in her hold, but was thrown out of the action by going to leeward, having had a very narrow escape. The Superbe, another 74, having received one broadside from the Royal George, likewise overset in the same violent squall, and but a few of the people saved. The Hero, a 74, being disabled and driven out of the French line, was followed by Lord Howe, who, ranging close alongside, commenced a dreadful fire and obliged her to strike, but did not take possession of her, as he expected an attack from the Soleil Royale, who was then very near him; but Conflans passed without firing, and as the signal was now made for the fleet to anchor, being near the shore, he com-manded the Hero to come to an anchor near him, but not having sent an officer on board, they cut their cable in the night, and ran the ship on shore near Croissie, where Conflans came to an anchor about a league to leeward of our fleet, while Monsieur Beaufremont kept working to windward, and as soon as he perceived our ships at an anchor, and that he could weather them, he stretched out to sea and escaped to Rochefort with ten sail of the line, the rest being shut up betwixt our ships and the shore.

The gale continued with great violence all night, and in the morning we perceived that five of the French ships had got into the river Vilaine by taking advantage of the spring tide. This was a great disappointment, as we thought we had them snug in a corner, and never imagined they could escape into the Vilaine. There was now only one ship left in the bay riding at anchor off Croissie, about two miles to leeward of our fleet, and another was seen dismasted and on shore on "the Foure," a large sand bank which runs across, the bay to the southward. The Essex's signal being made to chase to leeward, Conflans immediately cut his cable and ran the Soleil Royale on shore under the bat-teries of Croissie, where, after he had landed his men, she was set on fire, together with the Hero, by the boats from the Magnanime notwithstanding the heavy fire from the batteries on shore. I watched the conflagration, expecting every minute the grand explosion of the magazine, but they burned a long time before they blew up, and then indeed the spectacle was grand and tremendous, not unlike the explosion of Vesuvius. The Essex had mistaken her signal, and, instead of bearing down on the Soleil Royale, had steered towards the ship in distress, which proved to be the Resolution, Captain Speke, and being ignorant of the situation of the Foure sand, ran plump upon it, and was obliged instantly to cut away his masts to save the ship from going to pieces, and as the gale still continued violent there was no possibility of giving either of them any assistance by sending the boats from the fleet to take out the men. Fifty of the seamen returned from the Resolution on a raft, thinking to reach Croissie, but the sea running very high they could not reach the shore, but were all drowned. On the third day, when the gale was but little abated, all the boats were ordered on the dangerous service of taking out the men, which was performed without any loss, but with considerable risk and hazard ;, the crews were sent chiefly on board the Formidable, being the nearest ship to the wrecks, which were afterwards set on fire and burned without being able to save either guns or stores. Thus ended the battle of Quiberon Bay, which entirely defeated the enemy's scheme of invading Ireland, their last desperate effort to turn the tide of an unfortunate war. Twenty-five thousand men under the command of the Duc d'Aiguillon, all ready to embark, saw from the shore the destruction of their fleet and the vanity of their hopes, and were no doubt thankful they were not in the fray. The total loss of the enemy consisted of six very capital ships, two of them flags, one taken, the other burnt, and the other four sunk and destroyed, besides the five in Vilaine River rendered useless by their backs being broke.

A lieutenant and 8o men being ordered from our ship on board the Formidable to assist in repairing her rigging, etc., I embraced the opportunity of seeing the havoc that had been made by the fire of so many large ships who had battered her. The destruction of her upper works was dreadful, and her starboard-side was pierced like a cullender by the number of shot she received in the course of the action ; the loss of men was prodigious in killed and wounded, amounting to more than 500, among the former the Admiral, M. St. Andre de Vergers 1 and his brother the first captain, all the other officers either killed or wounded, except a lieutenant-colonel, who assured me that every man of his detachment drawn up on the quarter-deck and fore-castle, etc., had been either killed or wounded but himself, that he had served in the army for thirty years, had been present at the bloody field of Fontenoy, but had never before witnessed such a scene of carnage. The grand chamber was filled with wounded officers, many of whom had suffered amputation, and had the tourniquets still screwed on the stumps, the vessels not being yet taken up, although it was the third day after the battle, and, on my astonishment, the surgeon was sent for and haughtily interrogated by the colonel con-cerning the omission, when he frankly declared that the number of wounded men was so great that although he had six mates yet he had not yet finished dressing, and that in the course of action all he could do was to amputate, smooth stumps, and apply tourniquets. Monsieur major invited me below to certify the number of his patients, and there a melancholy scene presented itself; the large gun-room, and every space between the guns on the lower deck, was crammed with wounded soldiers and sailors, besides three rows of cradles in the hold, containing 6o seamen, and many not yet dressed. Having emerged from this dismal scene of human calamity and explained the business to the colonel, who was satisfied with my report, monsieur major begged I would attend the dressing of one officer whose case was very peculiar. A grape shot had penetrated through the upper part of the right femur, came out under the seratum, which was blown up like a bullock's bladder, and had carried away all the perindum extremity of the rectum and part of the buttock ; he was then vomiting, and a cold sweat was spread on his countenance. The dressing consisted of unguent de styrace, etc.,which might prove as salutary as if it had been the balm of Gilead, as the poor young man was fast approaching his last period. Two days after, a cartel being settled with the Due d'Aiguillon, all the prisoners were sent on shore to Vilaine and Croissie, but I am afraid that few of the wounded could recover, considering their very miserable situation and circumstances.

A few days after the action Lord Howe and some other officers, having reconnoitred the situation of the French ships in the River Vilaine, and sounded the depth of water at the entrance, reported to the admiral the practicability of burning the ships, after silencing two batteries that guarded the entrance, and it was proposed that two frigates should be run on shore, one against each battery, to protect the fire-boats, whilst they should grapple and burn the ships. Upon this desperate service we had the honour to be appointed, and Captain Burslem was highly delighted with the orders he received to lighten the Coventry by starting the water, and sending on board the nearest ship all the other provisions and heavy stores, so as to be able to approach the battery as near as pos-sible, and after running the ship on shore he was to take the command of one division of the boats. As the tide suited about midnight and everything being ready, the boats having rendezvoused at the admiral's ship, we every moment expected the signal to slip the cable and run in, being then near the mouth of the river, but providentially the wind changed and began to blow from the shore, which rendered the business impractic-able that night, and upon better intelligence next day the project was abandoned, for we then were convinced that the enemy's ships had not thrown their guns overboard, but were all prepared for our reception, and had expected an attack by observing our sounding the mouth of the river. Had the attempt been made the two frigates must inevitably have been sacrificed, and few or none of the boats could possibly have escaped.

Two days there-after, having recovered our. provisions and stores, we were dispatched in company with the Aeolus and another frigate to L'Isle Dieu, to procure live stock, etc., for the fleet. As it had only a few guns, and garrisoned by a hundred invalids, they made no resistance, but agreed to deliver all their sheep and cattle, which were accordingly embarked in several small vessels found in the harbour; but the weather proving very stormy, and a contrary wind blowing for some days, the sheep were distributed amongst the three frigates and immediately slaughtered, there being no provender but what was absolutely necessary for the large cattle, and they were kept at very short allowances, and, having a long passage to Quiberon Bay, were little better than carrion. The principal town contains some good houses, and a few of the merchants trade to Martinique; but the greatest part of the vessels is employed in the coasting trade and fishing, for which it is conveniently situated, being about half-way betwixt the mouth of the Loire and the Isle of Rhee.

Captain Burslem being appointed to attend the embarkation, etc., at his request I accompanied him on shore, and stayed a week at the house of the chief merchant of the place, where we were hospitably enter-tained. The governor's house being about a mile distant was not so convenient. There are four churches in the island, and the chief priest seemed to be a man of no small consequence ; he was a good scholar and spoke Latin with great fluency. Having frequently conversed with him, I soon found that the governor and he were not on the best terms, being rivals, and striving which should have the superiority of power and influence in the island. The governor had been an officer in the army, and wore the Croix de St. Louis, and his lady had read works of Voltaire and other free thinkers, and was accordingly no adorer of priesthood, but on the contrary was often severe in her reflections on this sacred order.

Being invited to an entertainment at her house, the priest gave me a sketch of her character, saying she was Femina altissima, and in religion un esprit fort. Our officers were highly pleased with her, and she seemed to have been bred in high life, and gave us an excellent dinner, with abundance of good claret, and was perfectly affable and polite in conversation and behaviour. The husband talked of his campaigns, and showed the marks of a wound he had received at Dettingen, at the same time lamenting that the feebleness of his garrison had prevented him from exhibiting to us the proofs of his former prowess. In strolling about the island our people had discovered a very large magazine of corn, and our commodore, considering it as public stock, insisted on a ransom for it, and the vessels in the harbour, which amounted to forty or fifty coasters. This was refused by the governor as not included in our first demand, which was only the live stock. In the course of the altercation he treated Captain Burslem with some hauteur, not knowing his rank, as he did not wear his uniform; to terminate the business it was pro-posed sending him on board the commodore to settle the matter with him, upon which the Gascon pulled in his horns and agreed to a ransom of one thousand pounds, and to deliver two principal hostages for the payment of the money. The priest took this opportunity of asking a favour, which was to have the garrison transported to Vannes, for he secretly told me that if the governor was stript of his garrison he would then reign without a rival, and the Church would be triumphant. This favour I obtained for him, not without some difficulty, for Burslem's humanity was equal to his courage; however, being piqued with the governor's behaviour, an article was inserted by the priest in the capitulation, by which the garrison was to abandon the island within a month from the date of signing the articles.

Upon our return to Quiberon Bay the admiral, having learned from Captain Strachan the state of the island, and that it would be convenient for watering the ships, sent down a cutter with the hostages, and returned the ransom bond as beneath his notice. We were then sent on a cruise off Basque Road, and in the night chased and came up with two large frigates, either of them much superior to us. Having duly reconnoitred, and counted their guns, we did not think it prudent to attack, after a general consultation of the officers and ship's company they were left to pursue their course into Basque Road. Sometime before, we had been so lucky as to intercept a pacquet, La Lerrette, from Bourdeaux to Brest, with sea stores of wine and liqueurs, preserved peaches, olives, etc., etc., directed to Monsieur Conflans. This proved a very agreeable supply after a long cruise, when our sea stock was almost exhausted ; and the champaigne and constantia were most excellent. The pacquet was fitted out and sent to cruise near the shore, under the command of Mr. Brice, the first lieutenant, now knight and a rear-admiral. Having been now some months at sea, and, in consequence, very foul, were sent into Plymouth to dock and refit, where Captain Burslem went ashore to sick quarters, and Captain Ogle was appointed to command in the interim. Our next cruise was in company with the Juno frigate, oft Bayonne and St. Andero, on the Spanish coast, where we picked up a few prizes, chiefly retaken vessels, and one privateer of 24 guns called the Jupiter, who maintained a running fight for some time before he struck. The cruise being finished, and the prizes sent to England, we returned to Quiberon Bay, which was now become a fixed station for the fleet to watch any embarkation, and to prevent the ships escaping from the Vilaine River, and a number of transports were employed in bringing live cattle, etc., from Cork for the use of this stationary squadron, and we made several trips during the summer in convoying and protecting the victuallers. This was but dull work for a fine frigate that might have been much better employed in destroying privateers which then swarmed and were destructive to trade, but Mr. Hay, the admiral's secretary, was not our friend, and we were therefore sent on the meanest services, and had not an opportunity of picking up prizes. It was generally believed that this secretary had too much influence with the old admiral, who was now in the wane of life, and this occasioned much discontent and murmuring in the fleet or western squadron, as great partiality was shown in the appointment of cruising ships.

Whilst employed in convoying the victuallers, we were sometimes detained a considerable time at Cork, and were entertained with true Irish hospitality, particularly at the house of Mr. Moor, who had one of his sons in the service, and here I first saw the beautiful Lambina, in all the bloom of youth, and cast in nature's fairest mould ; in short, she was a most attracting girl, and, in consequence, I was deeply enamoured, nor is it to be wondered that an amorous young man should be sensible of such alluring charms. Her father had lately succeeded to a considerable fortune by the premature death of a distant relation, and being cousin to Mr. Moor had frequent opportunities of dining with him at his house. The lovely daughter seemed to have no aversion, and the old gentleman in the hours of convivi-ality often hinted his approbation of my suit. But the great difficulty now occurred of quitting the service and settling on shore. This was a difficulty not to be sur-mounted, and was opposed by the captain, who by no means could give his consent; and to marry and leave such a wife behind was contrary to every feeling sentiment. After a violent struggle, I was under the necessity of sacrificing my fond attachment to the stern dictates of prudence and discretion, taking leave of Cork with a heavy heart. Lambina afterwards married a wine merchant, with whom she was unhappy, and, by all accounts, was cruelly treated.

Upon our return to Plymouth, to dock and refit, we could hear no account of Captain Burslem, who had been missing some time, and, being subject to religious melancholy, his friends were much concerned and exceedingly anxious to dis-cover his retreat. After much trouble lie was traced as far as Exeter, but no further intelligence could be got, till one day he was discovered in the cathedral, and followed to a mean house in the neighbourhood, where he had taken up his abode. No persuasion could prevail on him to return to the service, having resolved to devote himself to solitude and devotion. This is perhaps the only instance in the annals of the Navy of a captain of a man-of-war taking so singular a turn. The circumstance which chiefly disgusted him was, that at the persuasion of the officers he had not engaged the two French frigates we had chased in the night, and in seeing on our return to Plymouth an account in the newspaper of the arrival of two French Indiamen much about the same time in Basque Road, he never could be persuaded but that these Indiamen were the ships he had chased. This made so deep an impression on the mind of a man naturally brave, but too easily listening to the suggestions of others ; for through a mistaken humanity a great relaxation of discipline prevailed, so that, in fact, we were no better than a privateer, where everyone gives an opinion, where little subordination prevails, and where the maxim is, " Hail fellow well met.""

Note 1 Count de Verger, of the Formidable, was wounded early in the action, and carried below; when his wounds were dressed he was brought on deck in a chair, where he was killed, and his brother who succeeded him in the command, soon afterwards. Their bodies were sent on shore by Sir E. Hawke, and buried by the Duc d'Aiguillon with military honours. Many of the French officers were disabled by sea-sickness, and unfit to fight. The Formidably, from the number of shot-holes she had received, was nearly sinking, and in her passage to Plymouth was kept afloat with great difficulty. She was dismasted in a storm, her coppers were washed away, and the prize crew and prisoners lived for four days on the boatswain's tallow.


7. He was commissioned Captain, RN on 4 Oct 1759

8. In 13 Oct 1760 he was posted away from HMS Coventry. 5

In 1978 the Florida Historical Quarterly, in an article about a Captain Eliot, includes the following statement.

"On October 13, 1760, in anticipation of the conclusion of his last convoy assignment, Eliot was commissioned to Coventry, at Plymouth, in the place of the ailing Captain Francis Burslem"



         Father: James Burslem (Bef 1695-1765) 6 
         Mother: Elizabeth Godolphin (1688-1767) 

Spouses and Children

1. *Mary ( - )
                1. Elizabeth Burslem (Abt 1776-1846) 7
                2. James Godolphin Burslem (Abt 1780-1861)
                3. Thomas Burslem (Abt 1779-Bef 1826)
                4. Frances Burslem (Abt 1780- )
                5. Margaret (Peg) Burslem (Abt 1781- )



Described as Captain Burslem in his Father's will.

Naval Biography 1849 states:

"....Captain Francis Burslem RN, who, when commanding the COVENTRY 0f 38 guns in June 17, 1760, fought, on one day, a most gallant action with two French frigates, one of whom was sunk, and the other, La Mouche, taken.........."




1. The National Archives (UK), ADM 6/339 Papers submitted to the Charity for the relief of Officers' Widows. Surety: 3.

2. Lieutenant's Logs (National Maritme Museum - collection ADM/L/L/29), Personal Log of Francis Burslem. Surety: 3.

3. The National Archives (UK), Item details ADM 354/151/21. Surety: 4.

4. W.H.Long and A.H.Long, Naval Yarns - A Collection of Narratives (Published 1899), p68. Surety: 3.

5. (1978), page 460. Surety: 3.

6. Percy Walter Lewis Adams, A History of the Adams Family of North Staffordshire (London, England, St.Catherine's Press, 1914), Page 81. Surety: 3.

7., search burslem. Surety: 3.