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The Riverside Museum and Glenlee, Glasgow     The Riverside Museum

Towards the end of last year we submitted two abstracts to the British Commission for Maritime History’s New Researchers in Maritime History Conference which is taking place at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow in March this year. This is our first attempt to publicise the research we’ve been doing on the lives and careers of the officers and men of HMS Indefatigable, so we were delighted when our proposal for a presentation on the Honourable George Cadogan was accepted.

In the run up to the conference we’ll be using this blog to post a full write up of the fascinating story of Cadogan’s troubled career early naval career.

Sadly our proposal on Alex McVicar, Cadogan’s shipmate, was not accepted. McVicar also had a long and active naval career and and became known in his home town of Leith as “Captain McVicar of Trafalgar”. MacVicar did indeed serve at Trafalgar, though not as captain, he was Lieutenant of HMS Minotaur at the time. McVicar did eventually make post but not until 1817. We’ll be following up the rest of Alex McVicar’s story at a later date.

Conference Abstracts

George Cadogan: A Career in Courts Martial 1804 – 1809

“Little Cadogan is a most delightful boy, I think he promises to be everything the heart can wish…I cannot say too much in his praise.” So wrote Captain Sir Edward Pellew to Lord Spencer in 1797 following the engagement between the Indefatigable and Amazon frigates and the French 74 the Droits de L’Homme. “Little Cadogan” was the Hon George Cadogan, later 3rd Earl, who had been accepted as Volunteer First Class on the Indefatigable at the request of Lord Spencer, a friend of his father, the 1st Earl.

Cadogan appeared set for a distinguished naval career, and did indeed retire from the service with honours in 1813. However the intervening years were far from exemplary. Over the course of five years, 1804 to 1809, Cadogan endured three courts martial; he lost his first command to the French, quelled a mutiny on his second and in his third command was tried for bringing about the death of a midshipman through tyranny and cruelty.

Cadogan has been dismissed as a cruel, tyrannical captain in the mould of Pigot but an examination of contemporary documents presents a more complex picture. This paper will present a summary of Cadogan’s three courts martial based on a study of a wide range of sources; private letters in the Pellew archive, the Huntingdon Library, the Cadogan family archive and parliamentary archives, in addition to a detailed analysis of admiralty records including captains’ and masters’ logs, musters and pay books, captains’ letters and courts martial transcripts.

Alex McVicar: A Midshipman of the Western Squadron 1796 – 1802

This paper will focus on the early naval career of Alexander McVicar, midshipman on Captain Sir Edward Pellew’s Indefatigable in 1797 at the time he commanded an independent cruising squadron in the Channel. McVicar’s entry in the frigate’s muster provides a valuable insight into the manning of this squadron.

Originally a merchant seaman from Leith, McVicar joined Indefatigable in 1796 aged 27. Over the next two years he was re-rated at least half a dozen times in concert with other temporary and permanent promotions of officers throughout the squadron. By studying the muster entries of these officers it is possible to examine Pellew’s integrated management of the squadron. The exchange of junior officers between ships enabled the squadron to function effectively even when officers were lost through promotion or were despatched as prize crews.

Although Pellew has been criticised for inordinately favouring his own family and influential friends, he was also an active patron of a number of men from the merchant service, with no connections or interest to recommend them. Pellew promoted McVicar’s career by writing repeatedly to Lord Spencer requesting his promotion after he returned from captivity, having been captured in command of a prize taken by the Indefatigable.

McVicar’s career and those of his fellow officers has been reconstructed through an analysis of the musters, paybooks and captains’ logs of the Western Squadron and an examination of correspondence in the Pellew archive at the Caird Library, genealogical sources, and previously unexamined documents in private hands.