Captain John Erskine Douglas R.N.


Admiral John Erskine Douglas (c. 1758 – 25 July 1847) was a senior British Royal Navy officer of the early nineteenth century who served in a number of vessels and participated at the destruction of the French ship of the line Impétueux in 1806 and the victory over the French off Brest during the Battle of Basque Roads in 1809. He also served in the Mediterranean and off Norfolk, Virginia, where he gained notoriety by searching American vessels for British deserters without asking permission from the American authorities. He later served as commander in chief at Jamaica and rose through the ranks to full admiral.

The son of David Douglas, he was a descendant of James Douglas, 2nd earl of Queensberry. He amassed a fortune, and when he died Douglas left over 40,000l. to his daughters.

Douglas was born in the later 1750s, and joined the British Royal Navy at a young age, reaching the rank of commander in 1794 at the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars. Within a year he had been made a post captain and taken command of the small frigate HMS Garland, which he commanded in the North Sea until 1798, when he transferred to the larger frigate HMS Boston. Boston was stationed off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, intercepting numerous French merchant ships trading with American ports. For a time he blockaded the French frigate Sémillante, but by 1801 had sailed for the West Indies, operating in the Leeward Islands and then moving north to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he remained until 1804, continuing in employment throughout the Peace of Amiens.

On his return to Britain, Douglas was given the 80-gun ship of the line HMS Impetueux, moving in 1805 to the 74-gun HMS Bellona, which participated in the Atlantic campaign of 1806 as part of the squadron under Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Strachan. Ordered to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, Bellona was cruising with HMS Belleisle off Cape Henry on 14 September 1806 when the French ship of the line Impétueux was spotted steering into the Chesapeake. Impétueux had been caught in a hurricane earlier in the summer and was badly damaged, limping to port under jury masts. Closely pursued, Impétueux was driven on shore by her captain and the crew scrambled onto the beach as British boats boarded and captured the wreck. Although British intervention on American shore was a clear violation of American neutrality in the war, there was no protest from the American authorities – the only complaint coming from the French consul at Norfolk. Damaged beyond repair, the wreck of Impétueux was burnt on the beach.

Douglas remained off the Chesapeake during 1807 in command of a squadron of smaller vessels observing two French ships of the line at anchor in Hampton Roads. This squadron became embroiled in the controversy surrounding the removal of British deserters from American-flagged vessels that ended with the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair in July 1807 and Douglas exchanged angry letters with the Mayor of Norfolk. Returning to Europe in 1808, Bellona was attached to the Channel Fleet and in 1809 was part of the blockade fleet under Lord Gambier that destroyed a number of French ships at the Battle of Basque Roads. Moving to the North Sea in 1810, Douglas captured the privateer L'Heros du Nord and in 1812 transferred to the 98-gun second rate HMS Prince of Wales in the Mediterranean, where he remained for the rest of the war.

In 1814, Douglas was promoted to rear-admiral and the following year served as commander in chief of the Jamaica station, remaining in the post until 1818. Retiring from active service, Douglas continued to rise through the ranks, becoming a vice-admiral in 1825 and a full admiral in 1838.

He died aged 89 at Swallows near Watford in Hertfordshire on 25 July 1847, leaving the considerable fortune of 40,000l. (£2,896,600 as of 2011) to his daughters, with a proviso that his sister receive 150l. a year.


1.  D6/4/1853 - On the 6th instant, at 24 Chester Street, Belgrave Square, London, Miss Douglas, only surviving daughter of Admiral John Erskine Douglas, (died) aged 87 years.
2.  Daughter Helen Catherine Douglas 'of the Queensberry family' married in 1843 Lt Col Colin MacKenzie as his second wife. There was no issue.

Ship: L'Impetueux, 80,

Promoted Captain - 1795

Ship: Boston, 32 returned to England from America in 1795 under Capt. James MORRIS. 1797 Capt. D. PRESTON, 8/97.
1798 Capt. John Erskine DOUGLAS, removed from GARLAND at the beginning of the year. Coast of France. 1799 West Indies station, where he blockaded the French frigate SEMILLANTE in Norfolk, Virginia, in the spring of 1801. She returned home at the close of 1804. 1805- out of commission at Plymouth.


Extracted from ???

  Josr Ensrnrr Doucues is son of the'late Divid
D_ouglas, Esq., by l\liss Thompson; grond-nephcw
ofJames, second Earl of Queensberrj; and ciusin
or_ the present tltrquesS of euensberrv, His
eld_e_br r_other, lfilliamf a Colonel in the Arniy, died
in May 1831.
. Tl-rjs officer obtained his first commission 2l
{nql,1778; acquired the rank of Commander. in
the I'RoypEUSE sloop, 24 llay, li94; and was motle
Post-Io June, 1795. He then assunied command of
the GAnT,AND 28, in which he served on the North
S€a stal.ion, util his removal, in 1799, to the Bosrox
32. \t'hile in-that vessel, on the American station.
ne appcars to heve ceptured and destroyed eeverai
ofthe_enemy's ships. and to bave bloikaded for
scveral months the &nillante, o French frieate of
l'ar s_rlperio_rfb rce. After cruizing for some t-im; iu
the \Yest Indies and off Halifax,tapt. Douelas. on
hpitsT UreEtruxr n^Uhqo maet.t acinh eId8 0{to, wthacs aCphpaonirnietel d flte"e ti.i, u Ef*x-_
chongin& early in 1803, into the Bcnorr 24. he
subsequently assisted, ofi' Cape Henry. at the des-
truction, l.l Sept. l80ti, of the Frencli 7&gun ship
L'Imrytuew-was intrusted with the command-.
during the summer of 1806, of a squadron stationed
In the Ulresopeake. eerved under Lord Gambier at
the deslructiotr of the French shipping in Aix
lioads in April, 1809-and, on 18 D"". iSfO. "oo:
tu-red, in tbe North Sea, Le lldrcsdu-t\Irdprivatee'r.
or- t4 guns a'nd 4{ nretr. \l-hen in the Pnrrcr or
W,lr,ns 9_8r__t o s.hich ship he rvas appointetl in thl
spring of 1812. Capt. Doirglas witntised Sirndw.
'Ploeullleoivn',e parr,ial actions with" the Ft;";t fl";;;;;i
5 Nov. 1813, ond 13 Feb. l8-t,1. Beins oro_
moted to Flag-rank 4 June, 1814, he was noxtlt'rom
l8I5 to 1818, employed as Commander-ir(jhief at
Jameica. He has since been oo half-pav. He
became a Vice-Admiral 22 }tey, teSi, iln"d a fun
-.l,dmiral 28 June, 1838.
IIe married, in lEl8, llrs. White, end has. with
other issue, e deughter, Helen Catherine.' who
ItlS,2I Noy. l8,lg Capt. Colin l\lackenzie, Hon.



The true picture of a ship of war of the old school is to be found in
Roderic Random. Such it continued to be in 1 782, and was not much
improved in 1/92. The store-rooms were a chaotic mass of most things
requisite for a ship, although nothing was to be found when wanted. The
first instance we can remember of their being arranged in that beautiful
order, now so generally observed in the service, was on board the Boston,
when commanded by the present Vice-Admiral John Erskiiie Douglas.
This was done by the carpenters of the ship, under the direction of the
captain : the advantages soon became so apparent, that many captains
followed the good example ; and government, receiving into its coun-
sels some of the most active and influential officers in the navy, adopted
the mode of fitting store-rooms throughout the service, and great are the
benefits derived from it." Brenton's Nttvnl History, III. p. 141.