George Cadogan was born in Westminster on the 5th of May 1783, the second son of Charles 1st Earl Cadogan and Mary Churchill. He had six older half brothers through his father’s first marriage to Frances Bromley who died fifteen years before George’s birth. One of these elder brothers was Thomas Cadogan who as captain of the Licorne in 1779 sailed to the Newfoundland station with a newly commissioned lieutenant, Edward Pellew. Charles was later lost on the same station with his ship Glorieaux, 74, and her entire crew during a terrible hurricane in the autumn of 1782.
On the 25th of September 1795 Earl Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty, wrote to Captain Sir Edward Pellew, by this time a frigate commander of considerable renown, requesting that he accept young George as a volunteer aboard HMS Indefatigable.
A son of Lord Cadogan a very old friend of mine is destined to the sea service…I have undertaken to recommend him to you. He is, I understand, between 12 and 13 years of age….I have told his father that he can be no better placed for this purpose than with you.
George entered the navy and the Indefatigable’s muster book in December 1795 at the age of 12 as a Volunteer First Class. He remained under Pellew’s command for the next six years and during his time on the Indefatigable participated in several notable frigate actions, including the famous engagements with the Virginie and the Droits de L’Homme. Following the latter action Pellew’s report to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Spencer, included commendation of 13 year old Cadogan’s conduct.
Little Cadogan is a most delightful boy, I think he promises to be everything the heart can wish. He is stationed on the quarterdeck, where I assure you my Lord, he was my friend. He stood the night out in his shirt and kept himself warm by his exertions. I can not say too much in his praise.
Sadly we have not been able to unearth any letters from Cadogan during his time aboard the Indefatigable, however contemporary letters from his shipmate Nicholas Pateshall, testify that Pellew quite literally acted in loco parentis for the young men under his command. In addition to paying from his own pocket for a tutor for the young gentlemen, he also took responsibility for managing the finances of the younger boys. On the basis of Pateshall’s letters it also appears that Pellew’s wife Susan kept an open house for the youngsters whenever they were in port. Although we can only speculate as to Cadogan’s experience of serving on the Indefatigable, it seems clear that he and his shipmates were as well, if not better, cared for as any of the young gentlemen in the fleet.
Over the course of the Revolutionary War, Pellew built a formidable reputation first as a frigate captain and later as the commander of an independent frigate squadron operating in the Channel. However such success did not meet with universal approval and did little to endear him to the Commander in Chief of the Channel Fleet, Admiral Lord Bridport. On the 10th March 1799 Pellew was ordered by Admiral Lord Bridport to leave his “dear Indefatigable” to take command of the mutinous ship of the line Impetueux. Such was the animosity between the two men that Bridport initially denied Pellew the traditional right to take his choice of officers and men to his new command. The intransigence of the Admiral sparked a desperate correspondence between Pellew and Lord Spencer, the First Lord of the Admiralty. In this extraordinary exchange of letters Pellew casts all propriety to the winds and pleads not to be parted from the “faithful, and attached Companions, grown from boys to manhood under him”. The language and sentiments of this distressing third person letter are unparalleled. Pellew’s anguish is clear over 200 years later and indeed he laments that time “however soothing on most occasions” can not “blot from his remembrance Circumstances so debasing to the reputation of an Officer”.
Having consulted the muster book of the Impetueux we now know that most of the Indefatigable’s young gentlemen and midshipmen, including George Cadogan, did in fact accompany Pellew to his new command along with a complement of seamen amounting to a total of just over 30 men. However it appears that none of the Indefatigable’s lieutenants were allowed to make the transfer. Most of the volunteers and midshipmen were initially rated as able seamen on entering the Impetueux and were re-rated at their appropriate rank two or three weeks later. Other Indefatigables rejoined Pellew at a later date and many served almost their entire naval careers under his command.
Mutiny did indeed break out on the Impetueux in May 1799 in Bantry Bay, only months after Pellew took command. However the insurrection was rapidly quelled by decisive action from the captain in his sword and dressing gown and by the loyalty of the officers and marines. Cadogan had previously witnessed an earlier short lived mutiny on the Indefatigable coinciding with the Spithead mutiny and resulting from justifiable grievances over late payment of prize money. The Impetueux mutineers protested against excessive flogging and demanded the removal of the captain, second and fourth lieutenants. However there were suspicions that the mutiny was influenced by the politically charged situation in Ireland and the court martial resulted in three men being hung and five flogged round the fleet. However the second and fourth lieutenants were removed from the ship as the mutineers had demanded.
George Cadogan and Sir Edward Pellew parted company in December 1801 during the Peace of Amiens when Pellew took up a seat in parliament and Cadogan transferred to the Narcissus as midshipman before moving to the Leda and passing his examination for lieutenant in January 1802.
In 1804 Cadogan transferred to the Leeward Island Station where he received his first command the 18 gun brig sloop Cyane, on the 22nd August. The Cyane was initially a successful command, and under Cadogan’s captaincy took a number of prizes including the French brig privateer La Bonaparte with 18 guns and 150 men, and the Justitia, a Spanish privateer of 7 guns and 86 men. However Cadogan’s command came to an abrupt end when the Cyane encountered the vastly superior French frigates L’Hortense and L’Hermione each carrying 40 guns. Cadogan attempted to outrun the frigates without success and eventually struck without firing a shot. Captain and crew were transferred to Martinique where they were held as prisoners of war. Although their incarceration was short lived Cadogan was outraged by their treatment at the hands of the captain and crew of L’Hortense prior to their arrival at Martinique. On the 9th of July 1805 he wrote to Vice Admiral the Honourable Alexander Cochrane as follows:
Immediately after the ship struck a boat form L’Hortense was sent to the Cyane for the express purpose of taking me on board. Understanding this I demanded of the officer permission to take with me what effects belonging to me the boat was able to carry, as well as one of my servants, both of which were peremptorily denied me and it was not till my arrival at Martinique (four days afterwards) that I had even a clean shirt to put on. On my coming on board there was not even an officer of any sort to receive me and after my staying some minutes on deck the captain Le Melliere past me without acknowledging me and went below into his cabin where I was desired by and officer to follow him. During the short interview I had with him there he asked a number of question which I could not only but conceive extremely indelicate but likewise very illiberal to a man of his power, to all of which I answered with that indignity which a wounded feeling dictated. Having given the general outlines of the character into whose hands we unfortunately fell, I now proceed to the infamous conduct shown to my officers and ship’s company who were treated as well as myself in a manner that would disgrace the most barbarous. In myself they were not contented with what I had left to their mercy on board by ship, and which I could not expect would be returned, but even did not leave me more than half my wearing apparel which was in fact all that I saved from their rapacious hands. As my officers’ trunks were handed up the sides they were forced out of our people’s hands and thrown below where they were immediately broke open and the contents soon divided. They absolutely when the people were sleeping on the booms sent lines up with hooks to their end of them and by hooking them to their hats, shirts or anything they were able, in this manner reduced those unfortunate men to what they stood in.
I have I trust sir, said sufficient upon the unpleasant subject, but can not conclude without doing justice to the very handsome and generous conduct of the Captain General of Martinique from whom we received all the kindness and attention possible during our detention there, and which will make a lasting impression on my mind.
Cadogan clearly had a high sense of honour and his outrage is readily apparent. It should be remembered that the Royal Navy prohibited the mistreatment of prisoners of war under the 9th Article of War which stated:
If any ship or vessel be taken as prize, none of the officers, mariners, or other persons on board her, shall be stripped of their clothes, or in any sort pillaged, beaten, or evil-intreated, upon the pain that the person or persons so offending, shall be liable to such punishment as a court martial shall think fit to inflict.
Though it is debatable whether His Majesty’s navy respected this prohibition any more conscientiously then her enemies.
Cadogan and his crew were held prisoner for approximately eight weeks and by July 1805 had been exchanged and returned to Barbados where they faced a routine court martial for the loss of their ship. The court martial took place on the 11th July 1805 aboard HMS Unicorn in Carlisle Bay, Barbados. As there was no question of an 18 gun brig, such as the Cyane, taking on two heavy frigates carrying 40 guns a piece, Cadogan and his crew were honourably acquitted of all charges. The verdict of the court reads as follows:
This court is of the opinion that the Hon George Cadogan commander of His Majesty’s late sloop Cyane, the officers and seamen, used every endeavour to prevent His Majesty’s said vessel falling into the enemy’s hands, and Captain Cadogan did not strike his colours until it was impossible to escape from the enemy. Also being in such state, was in no condition to defend the ship against two large frigates of such force as they were. The court do therefore unanimously adjudge the Hon George Cadogan commander, the officers and company of His Majesty’s late sloop Cyane, to be honourably acquitted and they are hereby unanimously acquitted accordingly.
As the Cyane remained in French hands, Cadogan as formally dismissed as her captain immediately after the court martial. He returned to England and by the 27th October 1805 was writing to the Admiralty from Brandon, Suffolk, requesting further employment.
Cadogan had to wait five months for his next command; in March 1806 he was appointed to the new 18 gun Cruizer-class brig-sloop Ferret, fresh off the stocks at Dartmouth, and ordered to sail for the Jamaica Station.
The captain’s log of the Ferret has not survived, however the master’s log suggests that Cadogan struggled to command his new crew, as is evident from the punishment record, which shows numerous floggings. Over the six month period from March to September, discipline aboard the Ferret deteriorated and punishments increased until, on 26th of September 1806, the crew mutinied.