Minutes of Proceedings at a Court Martial

ADM1 5438 Public Records Office, Kew, England

Minutes of Proceedings at a Court Martial held on board His Majesty’s Ship Sceptre in Lynhaven Bay in the Chesapeake on the 3rd day of September 1813.



George Cockburn Esqr. Rear Admiral of the Blue and Second Officer in the Command of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Chesapeake. President

The Hon.ble Henry Hosham (?) Captain of the Fleet


Robert Lloyd                                       Robert Barrie

 Charles Baynton Hodgson Ross                Samuel Jackson 

Sir Edward Thomas Troubridge Bart.              Samuel John Pichell

     Charles Gill                                               William Henry Shirref 

Charles Montagu Fabean                        The Honorable Henry Dilkes Byng


The Captain, Officers and Crew of His Majesty’s late Sloop Colibri and evidence and audience admitted.

Read the Order of the Right Honorable Sir John Borlase Warren Bt. & K.B. Admiral of the Blue etc. etc. etc. directed to George Cockburn Esqr. Rear Admiral of the Blue and Second Officer in the Command of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Chesapeake, dated the 3rd day of September 1813 to enquire into all the particulars attending the loss of His Majesty’s Sloop Colibri on Port Royal Bar South Carolina and to try Captain John Thomson, his Officers and Company for the same.

Read the narrative which was as follows viz.


His Majesty’s Sloop Moselle

Port Royal Anchorage

August 30th 1813


It is with the most poignant grief and heartfelt sorrow that I have to acquaint you with the total loss of His Majesty’s late Sloop Colibri, under my command, on of the morning of the 23rd of August, in crossing the Bar of Port Royal South Carolina.

What led to this melancholy event, I beg leave to relate to you.

In compliance with your order of the 29th June which I received by the Moselle at New Providence I lost no time in proceeding off Savannah to place that port in a state of Blockade, after cruizing between that Port and Port Royal for ten days without seeing a sail, and finding that the enemy was carrying on a great Trade by the Inland Navigation between Charleston and Savannah, and my own Boats not being sufficient to prevent it, as they were protected by several large rowing Boats; I stood to the northward to look out for the Moselle. On joining her I found Captain Moberly to be of the same opinion with myself that the Enemy’s Inland Navigation could only be annoyed by uniting our Boats, which was evinced the following day by their burning a Sloop and Schooner near Bull’s Bay in the face of their row Boats, having succeeded in putting a stop to their Inland Navigation between Charleston and Georgetown; We stood to the Southwards for Port Royal to cur off the Communication between Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah, and in our judgement the most effectual way to carry this into effect, was to enter Port Royal Harbour and anchor off the mouth of Beaufort River. By the Admiralty Chart it appeared a Port of easy access having three and a quarter fathoms on the Bar at low Water, and taking precautions to sound and buoy the Channels off (which was performed by the first Lieutenant of the Colibri and Master of the Moselle) we found no difficulty in entering having never less than three fathoms.

it was a fortunate circumstance that the Boats were not sent alone as we found the Enemy were fully prepared to resist any small force, having expected an Attack for sometime past, and we found on landing that the Inhabitants had removed their valuable effects to the Main and were in considerable force on the East end of the Island of St. Helena with a fort erected. We continued two days at the Anchorage and having considerably annoyed the Enemy by causing them to assemble their Militia and erect additional Forts. On the morning of the 23rd of August at dawn of day, it being then two Thirds Flood, a fine morning, Wind N.N.E. we weighed in Company with the Moselle and led out without the smallest apprehension, having found the Chanel good in coming in, and running out with the marks on, and passing close by the Buoy that we had before laid down, on Crossing the Bar the Colibri struck in Two and a half Fathoms, made the Moselle Signals to anchor, with a Gun. Tacked to the Northward in hopes of getting deeper Water, struck again, tacked to the Southward and found Three and a half Fathoms, let go the Anchor, veered to half a Cable, furled Sails, hoisted out the Boats and sent them to sound, found only Two and a quarter Fathoms all round us, the North Breaker bearing NWbN half a mile distant, at this time the wind veered to the Eastward with heavy squalls and Rain, a strong ebb tide setting out occasioned a heavy sea, got down Top Gallant Yards and Masts; soon after the ship began to strike in a quarter less Three, shortened in the Cable, started the Water, and hove overboard the Shot, Iron Ballast and other heavy Articles, to lighten her, made the Signal to the Moselle for assistance, finding the Tide ebbing fast and the Anchor under her Bottom, hove it up for fear of her bilging on it, set the head sails to wear her round, and run it without effect, at this moment she beat her Rudder off and grounded, got the stream Anchor out on the weather quarter in the deepest water to prevent her forging near the North Breakers, and the Kedge astern, shortly after this her stern post was beat off and she filled rapidly and fell over on her larboard side, cut away the Masts and Anchors, employed sending the People away to the Moselle with what Cloaths they could save, At One o’clock I was under the painful necessity of leaving her with my Officers, there being only a small part of her Poop above water and a heavy sea breaking over it.  I must do justice to the merit and great exertions of Captain Moberly his Officers and Ship’s Company for their timely assistance in saving the Crew at the risk of their lives. I beg leave also to bear testimony to the good conduct and persevering exertions of my Officers and Ship’s Company on this trying occasion, and here I return my humble thanks to Almighty God in having delivered us all from so perilous a situation.

From a continuance of bad weather for six days on board the Moselle after the loss of the Colibri, strong tides and a heavy sea breaking on the Bar prevented us saving any of the wreck except the Boats which were lost in a Hurricane on the Night of the 27th of August at which time the wreck parted in three pieces. I beg leave here to observe that the Master of the Moselle and first Lieutenant of the Colibri were kept continually sounding the Bar whenever the weather would permit after the loss of the Colibri and they do assert that the passage by which we came in was filled up to two fathoms at high Water and that the Buoy which they placed in Three Fathoms on our coming in, was found by them, after the Colibri was aground to be in only Two Fathoms at high Water and that it was not until the 29th that a passage was found for the Moselle and then at high Water only two & half at spring tides. I hope it will appear that the loss of the Colibri is only to be attributed to the inaccuracy of the Admiralty Chart, which lays down three and a quarter fathoms on the Bar at low Water in spring tides in a Calm, or to the shifting of the Banks, and to excessive Zeal for the good of His Majesty’s Service and the annoyance of the Enemy in the only vulnerable part on this Coast;-



The right Hon.ble                                             I have the honor to be Sir,

Sir John Warren Bt. & K.B.                             Your most obedt. humble Servant

Admiral of the Blue                                         (signed)

Commander in Chief                                        John Thomson     Captain



Then the Members of the Court and Judge Advocate, in open Court, and before they proceeded to trial, respectively took the Oaths directed by Act of Parliament made and passed in the 22nd year of the reign of His late Majesty King George the 2nd entitled “An Act for amending, explaining and reducing into one Act of Parliament the laws relating to the Government of His Majesty’s Ships, Vessels and forces by Sea”


Court.                    Have you Captain Thomson anything to state against your Officers?

Answer.                 Nothing whatever.

Court.                    Have the Officers and Ship’s Company anything to state against Captain Thomson?

Answer.                 None whatsoever was replied by both Officers and Men.


All the evidences were ordered to withdraw out of Court except Lieutenant John Houghton, 1st Lt. of the Colibri who was sworn.


Court.                   Did you sound and examine the Channel into Port Royal previous to the Brig going into it on the day stated in Captain Thomson’s letter?

Answer.                Yes in company with one of the Boats of the Moselle with the Master of that Ship in her

Court.                   What was the least water you found in the Passage?

Answer.                Three fathoms at Slack Water, beginning of Flowing Tide.

Court.                   For about what width was the Channel with that depth of Water?

Answer.                About three quarters of a Mile.

Court.                   Had you deeper water after you passed that Shoal Water? 

Answer.                Yes.

Court.                   From what length had you from three to three and half fathoms?

Answer.                About One Mile and a half.

Court.                   Did you mark the deep part of that Channel and if you did how did you mark it?

Answer.                We placed a Buoy in 3 fathoms, bearing S.S.E from the North Breaker and there was three fathoms between them.

Court.                   Was that Buoy remaining there when you returned?

Answer.                 Yes.

Court.                   Was the Mark of that Buoy sufficient to make you certain that you returned over the same track by which you entered?

Answer.                Quite so.

Court.                   What report did you make to Captain Thomson when you returned from sounding that Channel?

Answer.                 I told him we would not have less Water than what we then had which was a quarter three, and that there was no apparent danger in entering.

Capt. Thomson.     Is the narrative which you heard read to the Court a true and correct Statement of all the Circumstances attending the loss of His majesty’s late Sloop Colibri?

Answer.                Perfectly so.

Capt. Thomson.     After the Colibri struck was every Exertion made by me, the Officers and the Ship’s Company to get her off?

Answer.                 Yes, and I never saw Officers or Men behave better.


Lt. John Houghton ordered to withdraw. Mr. McSnowey (?) Master of the Moselle was then sworn.


Court.                    Did you sound the passage by which the Brigs, Colibri and Moselle went into the Harbour of Port Royal on the day set forth in Captain Thomson’s letter?

Answer.                 Yes.

Court.                    Relate to the Court what Description of Passage it was and what depth of water you found?

Answer.                 According to our Soundings we found three Fathoms, a mile wide in the narrowest part and about a Mile before we got into deep Water, at scarcely half Flood.

Court.                   What report did you make on returning to your Ship respecting the Passage and to whom?

Answer.                 I told Captain Moberly I thought the Passage a good one and that I had laid a Buoy on the South Breaker and that between that and the North Breaker which shewed very plain was a safe Passage, as I had sounded right across.

Court.                   Was that buoy still on the South Breaker when you returned?

Answer.                It was.

Court.                   and were those marks sufficient to make you certain that the Vessels did return by the same track you entered?

Answer.                Yes.

Court.                   What water was there when the Colibri struck?

Answer.                Two and a half fathoms.

Court.                   What time of tide was it then?

Answer.                 High Water.

Court.                   Where abouts in the Passage was she then with respect to the Buoy on the South Breaker and the North Breaker?

Answer.                Nearly half way between them so then without.

Court.                   How near to her did the Moselle anchor?

Answer.                About two Miles and a half within her.

Court.                   What water does the Moselle draw?

Answer.                About Fourteen Feet Nine.

Court.                   How did you manage to get out after the disaster which happened to the Colibri?

Answer.                By sounding several days we found a Passage to the Southward of the Buoy we had laid on the South Breaker by which we then came out.

Court.                    Between the Buoy on the South Breaker and the North Breaker did you fail in your endeavours to find a Passage for the Moselle subsequently to the loss of the Colibri?

Answer.                 I sounded the whole way across it, and the deepest water I could find any where was two and a half fathoms at high Water.

Court.                   Between the same Marks previous to your going in, are you positive you had three fathoms Water for a Mile’s extent?

Answer.                Yes I am positive and at only half Flood.

Court.                   Are you of opinion as a Seaman that every possible exertion was used to endeavour to get the Colibri off after she got aground?

Answer.                 Yes. I was on board of her immediately after she had struck and it appeared to me every possible effort was made.

Captain Thomson.  In your opinion was the Moselle saved by the Colibri making her Signal to anchor?

Answer.                 Yes.


Mr. McSnowey Master of the Moselle ordered to withdraw.

Captain John Moberly of the Moselle was next sworn.    

Captn Thomson.     In your opinion was the Moselle saved by the Colibri making her signal to anchor?

Answer.                 Yes, most certainly.

Captn T.                Was the Tide and weather at the time that I attempted to take the Colibri out such as to justify my attempting it?

Answer.                 Yes, I had a Charleston Branch Pilot on board who observed at the time we could not have a finer day or finer Tide.

Court.                    Did the Pilot you had on board inform you there was a passage for the Brigs where you attempted to pass?

Answer.                 Yes, and said he had passed it a short time ago, with not less than four Fathoms, and when the Colibri struck he said she had passed the shoalest Part, and when she made the Signal of having struck he said it was impossible she could be aground there.


The Prisoners having nothing further to state the Court was cleared and proceeded to deliberate upon and form the Sentence.


The Court having carefully and deliberately weighed and considered the Evidence produced, and what the Prisoners alledged in their defence, was of opinion that no Blame was to be attached to Captain John Thomson, his Officers or Company for the loss of His Majesty’s Sloop Colibri, that captain Thomson took every possible and proper Precaution in having the Channel into Port Royal regularly sounded and examined previous to taking in His Majesty’s Sloop into that Port, and that the loss of His Majesty’s said Sloop Colibri was to be attributed to the Sand having suddenly accumulated on the Bar, where there was every Reason to suppose the same depth of Water would be found as at the time of their Entrance, and the Court was further of opinion that after His Majesty’s said Sloop grounded every possible Endeavour was made by Captain Thomson, his Officers and Company to save her.  The Court did therefore acquit Captain John Thomson, his Officers and Company of all Blame for the loss of His Majesty’s Sloop Colibri and the said Captain Thomson, his Officers and Company were acquitted accordingly.

The Court was opened, audience admitted and sentence passed accordingly.