Local History Section
Adam Duncan, first Viscount Duncan, was the second son of Provost Alexander Duncan of Lundie, and of Helen Haldane, daughter of John Haldane of Gleneagles. The proclamation of the marriage of his parents is thus recorded in the Parish Register of Fowlis Easter:~
Alexander Duncan, the eldest son of this marriage, became a Lieutenant-Colonel in the army, and died without issue, when the estate fell to the Admiral. The birth of Adam Duncan, the second son, which took place which took place in his father's house in the Seagait of Dundee, is entered in the Register of Baptisms for Dundee in these term:~
When about fifteen years of age Adam Duncan entered the Royal Navy as midshipman under Captain Robert Haldane, and served with him on board the "Shoreham" frigate for three years. In 1749 he entered as midshipman the "Centurion", of 50 guns, which was fitting out as flag-ship for Admiral Keppel; and he remained with this ship for six years. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 10th January, 1755, and accompanied Keppel to North America with British forces under General Braddock that were sent against the French troops in that quarter. On his return to England, Admiral Keppel transferred his flag to the "Torbay", and Duncan accompanied him as Second Lieutenant. For nearly three years he was retained on the home-station, and was not in active service until his ship was sent on an expedition against the French settlement at Goree, on the African coast, and he returned thence slightly wounded, with the rank of First Lieutenant. From this period his promotion was rapid. On 21st September,1759, he was gazetted Commander, and on 25th February, 1761, was made Post- Captain, and appointed to the "Valliant", of 74 guns, serving again under his steadfast friend, Admiral Keppel. When the latter conducted the famous expedition against Belleisle he hoisted his broad pennant on board the "Valliant", and Duncan was honourably distinguished for his bravery on this occasion. His next important service was in the protracted hostilities against the Spaniards in the West Indies, and after performing several brilliant exploits here, remained with Keppel on the Jamaica Station till the conclusion of the war. Britain was at peace for several years, and Captain Duncan was not actively employed until the war was renewed by the combination of the French and Spanish fleets in 1778, and he was appointed to the command of the "Monarch", under Admiral Sir Charles Hardy. During the following year the British fleet was compelled to act on the defensive, as their opponents were too powerful for them to attack with much prospect of success; but when British ships of war that were then in different parts of the world were ordered home, a powerful flotilla was organized under Admiral Rodney, and despatched to the relief of Gibraltar at the close of 1779. Here Captain Duncan again won distinction by his daring bravery, and was honourably noticed in the official reports of the expedition. After a brief period of inaction, he returned to Gibraltar in 1782 under Admiral Howe, and was specially mentioned for his bravery in the conflict which took place off the Straits in October of that year. On the termination of hostilities in 1783, he was transferred to the "Edgar", of 74 guns one of the guardships stationed at Portsmouth, and here he remained for the usual period of three years. On 14th September he was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral of the Blue, and three years afterwards he was made Rear-Admiral of the White. He was raised to be Vice-Admiral of the Blue on 1st February, 1793; Vice-Admiral of the White on 12th April, 1794; and Admiral of the Blue on 1st June, 1795. This rapid promotion seems to indicate that his services were highly appreciated, yet it is stated that he considered himself as under-valued. "He frequently solicited command, but his request was not complied with, and in consequence, it is said that he had it in contemplation to retire altogether from the service, and to accept a civil appointment connected with the Navy." But in April 1795, he was placed in a position which enabled him to show his capacity and to win immortal renown He was then appointed Commander-in-Chief in the North Seas, and hoisted his flag on board the "Venerable", of 74 guns - A vessel afterwards made memorable in connection with his name. After a short but successful cruise in the North Sea he returned to England in 1797 with several French and Dutch prizes, and whilst his fleet was lying in Yarmouth Roads, he managed by his intrepid conduct to quell the first symptoms of disaffection amongst the men under his command, who had been encouraged to revolt after the incident of the Mutiny at the Nore.
On 28th May, 1797, he received orders to blockade the Dutch fleet under Admiral De Winter in the Texel, and though the ships under his command were quite inadequate to warrant him in risking an engagement, he succeeded in keeping his opponents within the harbour for more than eighteen weeks. Finding that his provisions were running short, he was compelled to return to Yarmouth to refit, and though no time was lost in accomplishing this movement, he found the Dutch Admiral had taken the opportunity of his absence to venture into the open sea. He returned with all expedition to his former cruising ground, and on 11th October he encountered De Winter off the coast between the villages of Egmont and Camperdown. An engagement of the most sanguinary and brilliant character ensued. Admiral Duncan formed his line of battle so as to get the principal Dutch ships between him and the shore, but in such a position as enabled him to send a portion of his own fleet to leeward to prevent them receiving support from the coast. The Dutch maintained the contest with great bravery for five hours, but they were so closely engaged, and their loss was so excessive, that De Winter was at last compelled to surrender, and gave up his sword to Admiral Duncan on board the "Venerable." The dispatch in which Duncan announced this most important victory has been often printed, and need not be quoted here. The following letter, however, has not been published, and is of special interest, having been written by Admiral Duncan to his brother-in-law, Robert Dundas of Arniston, Lord Advocate of Scotland, before the Admiral had landed:~
As I am sure no friend will rejoice more at my good fortune that attends me than you will, I write you these few lines to say I hope the action I have had with the Dutch, who fought with their usual gallantry, is not exceeded by any this war. We have suffered much; the returns I have had, and have not had half, exceed 191 killed and 565 wounded. From only two Dutch ships 250 killed and 300 wounded. We was obliged from being so near land to be rather rash in our attack, by which we suffered more. Had we been ten leagues at sea none would have escaped. Many had surrendered, but got off in the night. We were much galled by their frigates when we could not act; in short, I feel perfectly satisfied all was done that could be, nor have any fault to find.
I have now in my possession three Admirals, Dutch: an Admiral De Winter, Vice-Admiral Beyntjes, and Rear-Admiral Therises. The Admiral is on board with me, and a most agreeable man he is, speaks English well, and seems much pleased with his treatment. I have assured him, and with Justice, nothing could exceed his gallantry; he says nothing hurts him but that he is the first Dutch Admiral who ever surrendered - so much more credit to me. He tells that the troops that were embarked in the summer were 25,000 Dutch, all designed for Ireland, but after August this expedition was given up. The Government in Holland, much against his opinion, insisted on his going to sea to show they had done so, and he was just going to return when I saw him. I am sure I have every reason to be thankful to God Almighty for his kindness to me on this occasion and all others. I believe the pilot and myself were the only two unhurt on the quarter-deck, and De Winter, who is as tall and big as I am, was the only one on his quarter-deck left alive. After all my fatigue I am in perfect health and in my usual spirits. God bless you, my dear friend, and believe me most faithfully yours,
"Venerable, getting up to Sheerness,
October 15th, 1797."
Lord Duncan was raised to the rank of Admiral of the White on 14th February, 1799. He retained his appointment as Commander-in-Chief in the North Seas until the spring of 1800, but there being then no appearance of a naval conflict he retired into private life. When war again broke out in 1804 he went to London, intending to offer his services to the Government, but whilst attending at the Admiralty he was struck down with apoplexy, and was obliged to return home to Scotland. Whilst on the way he was seized with a second apoplectic fit, and died at Cornhill, Berwickshire, on 4th August, 1804, in his seventy-third year. He was buried in the churchyard of Lundie, where a simple marble slab with a modest inscription, partly written by himself, marks his last resting place. His character has been thus tersely described:~
It may be mentioned as an interesting fact that Admiral Duncan was descended - partly in the female line - from Malcolm, fifth Earl of Lennox, the compatriot of King Robert the Bruce. The "Lennox Roses" are still shown in the Camperdown Arms, though the old eagle supporters were replaced by a sea-nymph and a sailor on the elevation of Admiral Duncan to the Peerage.