Admiral Robert Gordon Douglas

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Admiral Robert Gordon Douglas (1829-1910) of Seafield, Lower Walmer, has seen many years of active service. He entered the Navy in 1844, and while midshipman in the Grampus on the Pacific Station, jumped over-board on a dark and squally night, in a harbour infested with sharks, and saved the life of a seaman.

When mate of the Centaur, flag-ship of Rear-Admiral Henderson, on the south-east coast of S. America, he was landed at Buenos Ayres, to protect British interests and property during the war between Rosas and Urquiza.

As Gunner Lieutenant of the Orion he served in the Baltic during the Russian War, and on one occasion jumped overboard in a heavy gale and sea, in the endeavour to save a man who had fallen overboard : at the conclusion of the war he received the Baltic medal. Subsequently, he served as Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Edward Harvey, commander-in-chief at Sheerness, 1857-60; commanded ??? Shearwater, on ??? Pacific Station 1862-66, receiving a letter of thanks from the Spanish commander-in-chief for following out of action the Berenguela with the view of saving life, when the Spanish Squadron were engaging the batteries at Callao, the Berenguela being at the time badly hulled, and on fire near the magazine; was captain of the Cossack, Australian Station, 1871-73 ; of the Newcastle, Flying Squadron, 1874-77 ; and of the Warrior, 1878-81.

From 1881 to 1883, he served as Assistant to the Duke of Edinburgh, when His Royal Highness was Admiral Superintendant of Naval Reserves ; was employed as Rear- Admiral, 1884-86, to put the North Sea Fisheries Convention into force, inquiring into the Fisheries of the United Kingdom, and establishing cruisers for their protection ; was appointed Admiral Superintendent of Malta Dockyard, May 1887, and received a letter of thanks from the Governor of Malta for services rendered to the inhabitants of the island during the cholera, in 1888 ; was A.D.C. to the Queen, 1880-83 ; and is a younger Brother of the Trinity House.

In 1870, in a violent storm, several ships were wrecked off Walmer.

Throughout this Sunday, the beach was thronged by the inhabitants, eager to render every assistance that lay in their power. One of them, Captain (now Admiral) Douglas, R.N., made the noblest efforts on behalf of the shipwrecked crews, and on three occasions rushed into the sea in his attempts to throw a line on board ; while valuable medical assistance was rendered by Dr. Davey of Upper Walmer.

A descendant of James, 4th Earl of Morton, he was the son of Commander John Douglas, JP, RN, and Robina MacDonell.

He married Julia Elizabeth Clarke. They had seven children including Sydenham Gordon Douglas, Captain of H.M.S. Skipjack and  James Sholto Gordon Douglas.  His youngest son Archibald George Gordon Douglas died in December 1902, only 18 years old.

Born:  7 June 1829; Died;  Jan 12th 1910

Date Rank
3 May 1853 Lieutenant
3 July 1860 Commander
11 April 1866 Captain
8 January 1883 Rear-Admiral
15 December 1888 Vice-Admiral
7 June 1894 Retired Vice-Admiral
9 December 1894 Retired Admiral
Date from Date to Service
(2 June 1859)   Lieutenant in Edgar, commanded by James Edward Katon, flagship of Rear-Admiral John Elphinstone Erskine, Channel squadron, flag-Lieutenant
13 December 1862 14 April 1866 Commander in Shearwater (from commissioning at Plymouth), Pacific
12 August 1871 18 July 1873 Captain in Cossack (until paying off at Sheerness), Australia
21 September 1874 1 June 1877 Captain in Newcastle (from commissioning at Sheerness), 1875 Flying squadron
15 March 1878 7 January 1881 Captain in Warrior(1), Coast Guard, Portland (and the Channel squadron)




1. Warrior was designed and built in response to an aggressive French shipbuilding programme which saw the introduction of the first iron-clad warship La Gloire designed by the brilliant naval architect Stanislas Charles Henri Dupuy de Lome.


Determined to see off this challenge to the supremacy of the Royal Navy the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir John Somerset Pakington, determined to build a ship so superior in terms of quality, speed, size, armament and armour that it would be inconceivable to France that she could take Britain on in a sea battle.

When commissioned by Captain the Hon. Arthur Auckland Leopold Pedro Cochrane, on August 1st 1861, Warrior was the largest warship in the world, at 9,210 tons displacement she was fully 60% larger than La Gloire.


The ship underwent minor modifications after a sea trial. In June 1862, she started active service in the Channel Squadron, patrolling coastal waters and sailing to Lisbon and Gibraltar.


Having introduced a revolution in naval architecture, by 1864 Warrior was superseded by faster designs, with bigger guns and thicker armour. By 1871 she was no longer regarded as the crack ship she had once been, and her roles were downgraded to Coastguard and reserve services. In May of 1883 her fore and main masts were found to be rotten, and not considered worth the cost of repair, Warrior was placed in the reserve, eventually converted to a floating school for the Navy and re-named Vernon III in 1904.


Put up for sale as scrap in 1924, no buyer could be found, and so, in March 1929 she left Portsmouth to be taken to Pembroke Dock and converted into a floating oil pontoon, re-named again as Oil Fuel Hulk C77. By 1978, she was the only surviving example of the 'Black Battlefleet' - the 45 iron hulls built for the Royal Navy between 1861 and 1877.

Extract from the Times newspaper
Th 26 November 1874:
The following particulars in reference to the cruise of the Detached Squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral G.G. Randolph have just been published. The vessels composing the squadron are the screw frigate Narcissus, 28, Capt. N. Bowden-Smith, the flagship; the screw frigate Doris, 24, Capt. The Hon. G.R. Fremantle, C.B.; the screw frigate Immortalité, 28, Capt, F.A. Hume; the Newcastle, 28, screw frigate. Capt, R.G. Douglas; the iron screw frigate Raleigh, 22, Capt. George Tryon, C.B.; and the screw frigate Topaze, 28, Capt. Arthur T. Thrupp. The squadron first visited Madeira, where they remained until the 21st ult., proceeding thence to St. Vincent, where they were timed to arrive on the 29th inst. They will remain there until the 3d of December, when they will proceed to Montevideo, which they will reach about the 2d of January, 1875. After remaining there until the 20th of that month, the squadron will go to the Falkland Islands, where they will arrive in ten days. They will stay there about 13 days, when they will leave for the Cape of Good Hope, where they are expected to arrive about the 9th of March. The squadron will leave the Cape on the 30th of March for St. Helena, which port they will make on the 11th of April. They will remain there till the 17th, thence proceeding to Ascension, where they are to arrive on the 23d of April. They will leave for Gibraltar on the 26th of April, reaching the Rock on the 3d of June next, and leaving again for England after a short stay. Letters to meet the squadron at the various places of call should be posted in time to leave London by the following mails:- For Montevideo, December 1 and 15; Falkland Islands, December 19; Cape of Good Hope; January 25, February 5 and 15; St. Helena, March 15; and Gibraltar, May 26.

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024