The information in this article was the result of work carried out during the Maritime Fife project.
I would particularly like to record the help given by a descendent of Greig Mr. W. G. Prattis. His Grand Admiral Samuel Greig, father of the Russian Navy. Dunfermline, 1985. was a constant reference.
Sir Samuel Greig Admiral and Commander in Chief of Her Imperial Majesties Fleets in the Baltic
mezzotint published 1st Nov.1778.Artist Dmitri Levitsky
Samuel Greig was born 1 in the small Fife port of Inverkeithing on the 30th November 1735 son of Charles Greig, shipmaster and his wife Jean Charters. It was probably Samuelís father who appears in the Boíness customs accounts of May 1743 as the master of the Hope of Inverkeithing trading to Gottenburgh with coal. 2
Samuel, taking up his fatherís profession, seems to have made rapid progress; so much so that he had "command of his father's vessel at an early age" 3 However at the age of 23 he seems to have decided that progress was not best made by staying in the merchant service for he decided to join the navy. The timing of Greigís move to the navy gives a strong indication that it was advancement rather than the naval life which induced him to leave the merchant service.
".....the navy offered the chance of honour, gentility and wealth, and some officers of merchantmen were sufficiently attracted to abandon their careers in the hope of bettering themselves in the Navy. A mate was reckoned equivalent in standing to a petty officer in the Navy, so the accepted course was to enter the Navy in that rating, or with the prospect of being rated petty officer almost at once, and to aim for a warrant or commission thereafter. Simply to reach warrant rank was, socially and financially, to "break even" by the change, for low pay in the Navy was counterbalanced by prize money, half-pay and widow's pensions." 4
Britain was entering the second year of the Seven Years War and promotion came more readily in wartime, either through gallant service or "dead menís shoes". It was probably a combination of factors, it is possible he had been offered a place by a friend.
His first captain, James Orrok5 of the Firedrake Bomb 6 , was only a few years older than Greig and as Orrok is a name peculiar to Fife, it's probable that they knew each other previously.
SEVEN YEARS WAR. 1756-1763
In 1754 the French colonial forces in North America were trying to secure the Ohio valley. This would have prevented further expansion westward for British colonists who were starting to exploit the regions potential.
The gradual build up of forces on both sides and consequent diplomatic movements in Europe led, in 1756, to war between Britain and France and later Spain. Part of the strategy of both sides was the disruption of the otherís trade both by gaining command of the sea and the destruction of colonial trade. This meant that fleets and armies were operating over vast distances from America, West Indies and Africa to India. Greig was to take part in two of the major actions of the war - Quiberon Bay and the capture of Havana. QUIBERON BAY 20TH NOVEMBER 1759.
If Greig enlisted for excitement he was to have it in full measure with his next ship the Royal George, was a first rate of 100 guns which formed part of the squadron, under Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, blockading the ports of the French fleet. Greig joined her in May 17597 as a midshipman, but by September had been risen to master's mate. 8 In early November 1759 the squadron, which had been blockading the French naval port of Brest since the Spring, was forced by the increasing bad weather to run into Torbay. However Hawke found that the condition of his flagship, Ramillies, was so bad that he shifted his flag to the Royal George. HAVANA JUNE 1762
By the middle of November the weather abated slightly and Hawke's fleet proceeded to take up their position off the Isle of Ushant. However, under the cover of the storm, a French squadron from the West Indies were able to join with the fleet of Marquis de Conflans at Brest. This combined force had escaped from Brest by the time Hawke resumed his station.
The French were preparing to invade Britain, and the transports and troops were mustering south of Brest in the Morbihan. The French fleet, which was to escort the transports, was now heading for this rendezvous. When it was discovered that the French had escaped Hawke, who had received news from London of French intentions, set course south in pursuit. At half-past eight on the morning of the 20th November the frigate Maidstone signalled she had sighted the enemy fleet. Admiral Conflans, on seeing the approaching British fleet and realising that his force was weaker, ordered his ships to head into Quiberon Bay. The weather was steadily worsening as Conflans entered the bay, where he hoped to form a defensive position. Quiberon bay has several natural hazards such as rocks and shoals which the French, with good reason, thought would deter any pursuit. Sir Edward Hawke had his ships carrying as much sail as they dared which had enabled the advance ships to catch the rear of the French fleet as it entered the bay. Lord Howe, in the Magnanime, was the first to engage, opening fire on the Formidable, flagship of Rear-Admiral, du Verger. Howe was followed by the Warspite and in a short time the Formidable was put out of action.
The British ships now raced into the bay and a general action followed. The French Thesee was engaging the Torbay when a sudden squall laid her over so far that water poured in her lee gun-ports and she sank with six hundred of her crew. The Torbay's boats were launched but there were only twenty-two survivors. The Royal George meanwhile was in pursuit of the French flagship Soleil Royal. As she approached she engaged with the Superbe who, after receiving two broadsides suddenly foundered.
A full storm was now blowing and as night drew on both sides disengaged and the British fleet, being in strange waters, were ordered to anchor. During the night several French ships were seen making out to sea and running for shelter in the Basque roads. The Essex was sent in pursuit but ran aground on a shoal, which during the night, had also claimed the Resolution. As dawn broke the French Heros and flagship Soleil Royal found that they had, in the night, anchored amongst the British fleet. To avoid capture they cut their cables and ran ashore.
The strong wind prevented Admiral Hawke from doing more than sending his boats to destroy the grounded French and give what assistance they could to the Essex and Resolution. Seven of the remaining French ships managed, by jettisoning all their guns and stores, to and escape over the bar into the Vilaine. The French lost five ships and an estimated 2,500 men whilst the British lost the Resolution and the Essex and between 300-400 men.
The action in Quiberon Bay destroyed any hopes the French had of invading Britain. The experience gained by Greig, of the problems of operating in relatively, unknown waters, in a confined area and at night was to be put to good use in the future.
RUSSIAN SERVICE 1764-1788
What was to be Greig's last service in the British navy was not in a regular naval vessel, but a hired transport, the Albermarle. Greig passed as a Lieutenant in January 1762 and probably (for the musters are not available) he sailed with the Albermarle in March with the fleet bound for the West Indies.
The expedition to Havana was a formidably complex undertaking and would have given Greig an insight into the problems involved in a large combined force operating at a great distance form support facilities. Havana, on the island of Cuba, was considered to be impregnable and formed the centre of Spanish power in the West Indies.
The plan called for the invasion force, which was drawn form units in the West Indies and New York, to join with the main force from Britain off the island of St. Domingue. The joint force was then to take a course passing in turn Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, St. Domingue and Cuba, thus keeping enemy force guessing as to their destination.
It was the approach to Cuba which was to form the surprise element. Rather than take the usual approach, via the Gulf of Mexico, they proposed to use the Old Bahama Channel which, because it was almost uncharted and littered with reefs, would be thought impossible to navigate with a force consisting of thirty ships plus transports and ancillary vessels. Despite having to chart the channel themselves, the local pilots were found to be completely inadequate, the fleet achieved their objective, arriving off Havana on the 6th of June 1762.
Whilst the naval part of the operation had been a brilliant success the military operations to besiege and reduce Havana were a difficult and costly affair. Though Havana surrendered on the 12th of August the losses to disease in the five months of the operation were appalling the naval force lost 1,300 men, of these 86 had died from enemy action. The army numbers were worse they suffered 5,366 casualties only 658 from enemy action.
11 May 1764 8
When Catherine II assumed power in Russia in 1762 she found that the navy built up by Peter the Great had been allowed to deteriorate to a dangerous extent and she set about a programme of reconstruction. As Peter had done before her she looked to Britain for expertise and in 1763 made a request for British officers to enter Russian service. The Seven Years War had ended in the February of that year and Greig who, despite having passed as a Lieutenant in January 1762, had not secured a commission, must have felt that the peace ended any lingering chance of promotion. So the chance to enter the Russian service must have seemed particularly attractive. Requesting permission to leave the navy he received the following reply from the Admiralty:
I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint you that agreeable to your desire they are pleased to give you leave to go into the Dominions of the Empress of Russia.
And in pursuance of His Majesty' Pleasure their Lordships are also pleased to give you leave to enter into the service of that Empress, if you think proper, taking care to transmit hither a certificate from the British Minister of the time you do so, as your Half Pay will be discontinued from that time.
I am etc.
The Russia Greig was to serve was in a period of territorial expansion which brought her into conflict with her maritime neighbours, particularly Sweden and Turkey. Why Greig should have managed to rise to such prominence in Russian service when his talents appear to have been largely ignored, or at least un-rewarded, in the British navy is not clear. His ability in navigation, particularly his understanding of the technique of taking lunar observations, is cited as one reason. 9
In August 1769 Greig, in the Tri Ierarkha, formed part of the three squadrons of Russian-men-of-war which left the Russian naval base at Krondstadt. After a journey which had taken them through the English Channel and the bay of Biscay they became the first Russian warships to enter the Mediterranean.
They had been sent to support a revolt against Turkish rule by the Greeks in Morea, little was achieved other than attacking coastal strong points such as Koron and Modon. The main engagement, and the one which made Greig's reputation, took place on 5th July 1770 off the island of Chios.
The Russian fleet under Count Orlov with Greig as his flag captain encountered the Turkish fleet anchored close to the shore of the Island of Chios near the harbour of Tchesma. The Turks had anchored in two parallel lines to the shore with the most powerful ships to seaward but with gaps between allowing the second line to fire between them.
The Turkish forces numbered at least twenty battleships and frigates mounting a total of 1,300 guns in comparison to the Russian fleet of nine battleships and three frigates mounting 710 guns.
As the Russians approached the Turks opened fire and soon the battle became a melee of individual ships with the Russian flagship Sv. Evstafi engaging the Turkish flagship Real Mustafa. Suddenly the Turkish vessel burst into flames which spread to her opponent who blew up, quickly followed by the Real Mustafa. The Russian commander Count Orlov had escaped with several of his officers before his flagship was destroyed. At this point the Turkish ships cut their cables and headed into the harbour of Tchesma.
The Russians took up position across the mouth of the harbour but the formation of the channel meant it would be difficult to get a sufficient number of ships through to attack the Turkish position. It was decided to try an attack with fire-ships and Flag Captain Greig in the Rotstislav was to command the force of four battle-ships, two frigates and a bomb vessel which were to escort them.
Whilst some vessels engaged the shore batteries Grom the bomb vessel opened fire on the anchored Turkish fleet and caused a fire to start in the topsail of one of the battleships which rapidly spread to the rest of the vessel. At this point Greig dispatched the fire ships of the four only one did any real damage but the effect caused vessels already ablaze to run into others and soon the Turkish line was almost completely on fire. The only battleship not on fire the Rodos was captured by the Russians.
The scale of the victory was such that the Russian casualties were 11 killed and minor damage to the fleet. The Turks lost 11 battleships and six frigates and over thirty small craft. The national hero was Count Orlov who had been commander-in-chief but he readily admitted that he knew little of sea-fighting and had relied on the advice of his flag-captain Greig.
The only shadow over Greig's career is the curious incident involving a woman known as Princess Tarakanova, allegedly the daughter of the former Empress Elizabeth, who to prevent her being used as a possible claimant to the throne, was kidnapped. In February 1775 Greig's flag-ship the Isidor was anchored in the port of Leghorn, Count Orlov brought aboard the Princess who was welcomed with a thirteen gun salute. However when Count Orlov left to return to Leghorn he gave orders that the Princess and her party were to be detained. The next day the fleet left for Kronstadt and the Princess was imprisoned in St.Petersburg. She is said to have died in prison when the River Neav flooded the cells. How far Greig was actively implicated in the plot is unknown.
This character sketch was given by a British officer who served under Greig during the last year of his life:10
He was in general very silent, but sometimes in, particular companies, he knew how to make himself entertaining by producing with much good nature and pleasantness some of the inexhaustible fund of knowledge and information that he had acquired by constant application in the latter years of his life; for in his early his education had been evidently much neglected. his remarks were always judicious, for he was capable of observing and reflecting as well as of application to gain the ideas of others. with all this he was certainly slow and heavy from nature. In affairs of writing, however, method supplied all quickness of parts and in the active business of the fleet he threw off that part of his character and was busy, energetic and decided
In October 1777 Greig returned to Scotland where his visit was reported in the Scots Magazine 11
On Thursday October the 2nd the Empress of Russia's birthday, the Russian frigate at Leith gave a round of twenty-one guns, which was answered by the same number from the castle of Edinburgh; and on that occasion the Admiral gave a grand entertainment, in Fortune's tavern, Edinburgh, to the Prince d'Aschkow, the Lord Provost and magistrates, and many of the nobility and gentry in the city and neighbourhood. next day his Excellency was presented with the Freedom of the city; on which occasion the Lord Provost gave an elegant entertainment in his own house... on the 9th of October his Excellency set sail from Leith road on his return to Russia. The Empress has conferred the honour of knighthood on this gentleman now Sir Samuel Greig, and has appointed him vice-admiral of Krondstadt.
Greigís last battle was fought in his home waters of the Gulf of Finland.
Sweden, taking advantage of the majority of the Russian fleet was in the Mediterranean to launch an attack on the 17th July 1788. Grieg engaged the Swedes off the island of Hogland. A copy of Greigís report to the Empress the following day describes this drawn battle. 12
I most humbly in form your Imperial Majesty, that on the 17th July, about noon, we discovered the Swedish fleet, consisting of fifteen ships of the line, of 60 to 70 guns, eight large frigates, which carrying 24 pounders, on account of their weight of metal, were brought into the line, five smaller frigates, and three tenders, commanded by the Prince of Sudermania, with an Admiral's flag, and having under his command a vice-Admiral and rear-admiral.
I immediately made signal to sail towards the enemy; they formed the line and waited for us; our fleet, as it came up, formed also. The weather was clear with a light breeze from the south east. We bore right down on the enemy's line, and the Rostislaw, my flagship, engaged the Swedish admiral. As our line approached, the enemy began firing upon us about five PM. The engagement was very hot on both sides, and lasted without intermission till six. The Swedish fleet attempted twice to retreat: but as during the engagement it fell quite calm, and the ships would not answer the helm, the two fleets fell into some confusion. In the mean time the fire was kept up with great briskness on both sides till quite dark, and then the Swedish ships, by the help of their boats, got to a distance from our fleet. In this action we have taken only one ship, the Prince Gustavus of 70 guns, which carried the vice-admiral's flag. She was defended with great bravery for more than an hour against the Rostislaw, and had above 200 men killed and wounded before she struck, having before engaged the Wicheslaw.
On board of this ship was the Count Wachtmeister, aid-de-camp general to the King of Sweden, and who commanded the van division of the Swedish fleet. He came on board of my ship with an officer whom I had sent to take possession, and delivered to me his flag and sword. In consideration of his gallant defence I restored his sword.
I am sorry to inform your Majesty, that in the night, and after the battle had ceased, the Wladislaw dropped behind our line and fell in among the enemy's fleet, by whom she was taken, as the darkness of the night, and, above all, the thickness of the smoke, concealed her from us. I received the first notice of this disaster about midnight, from a petty officer who was dispatched to me before the enemy took possession.
In this engagement several of your Majesty's hips received considerable damage, and the whole fleet so much in the masts and rigging, that I was not in a condition to pursue the enemy, who, by reason of the little wind that blew during the night, were at no great distance form us; but a breeze springing up from the south east in the morning, they, took advantage of it, and crowded all the sail they could to gain the coast of Finland, to the east of Cabo de Grund, and we lost sight of them steering north east.
The action began between the island of Schten Seaker and the bay of Cabo de Grund, the former bearing S.E.E. distant 3 German miles, and the latter N.W.W. at about the same distance, seven miles and a half east of Hohlang.
I subjoin a list of the killed and wounded. The whole fleet is now employed in repairing the sails and rigging.
I must sat, on this occasion, that I have never seen a battle maintained with more spirit and courage on both sides, and we have nothing to boast of but the commander of the van division, and that the enemy left us in possession of the field of battle. All the flag officers, and a greater part of the captains, gave proofs of the greatest courage and firmness; and the bravery of the subaltern officers and sailors in general is entitled to praise; but it is with great grief that I am obliged to declare myself very dissatisfied with the conduct of some of the captains, whom I shall be under the necessity of suspending. This, however, will be done after a more particular enquiry, the accounts of which I shall transmit to your Majesty. If they had done their duty like good officers and faithful subjects, I have reason to believe that this action could have been completely decisive, and would have produced consequences equally satisfactory to your Majesty and glorious to your empire. I shall not fail at the same time, to make a particular report of those who have personally distinguished themselves by their courage and conduct on this occasion.
Added to Admiral Greigís letter is a list of the killed and wounded: from which it appears, that the fleet consisted of one ship of 100 guns, seven of 74, eight of 66; carrying 12,056 men: of whom 319 were killed, and 666 wounded.
The fleet returned to Kronstadt but after repairs regular patrols were kept along the Baltic and Gulf of Finland. It was in October that Greig, whilst on one of these patrols became ill, the Rotislaw headed for the port of Revel, now Tallin, and despite the Empress sending her personal physician he died on the 26th October 1788. He was given an elaborate State funeral when buried at Tallin on the 5th November.
1 For genealogy of the Greigís see Stephen, W. 1921 History of Inverkeithing and Rosyth Aberdeen
2 E504/6/1 Boíness customs accounts 1742-46.
3 Stephen: 492
4 Rodger,N.A.M. 1987 The wooden world. London : 264-265
5 ADM 107/3 James Orrok; Lieutenantís passing certificate page 566.
6 ADM 36/5595 Muster roll Firedrake Bomb page 159
A Bomb was the name given to a vessel which was designed to carry mortars rather than the usual cannon. The Firedrake carried two 10" and 13" mortars used for shore bombardment.
7 ADM 36/5747 Muster roll of Royal George page 115
8 ADM 36/5747 page 171
9ADM 2/724 Admiralty out-letters
10 Lloyd,C & Anderson, R.C. (eds.)1959 A memoir of James Trevenen Navy Records Society.p159
11 Scots Magazine Volume XXXIX October 1777. p562.
12 Scots Magazine Vol.L July 1788
James Trevenen, went to Russia in 1787 arriving in St.Petersburg in late September and so knew in the last year of his life- Greig died 15th October 1788. Trevenen died in Russia in July 1790 aged 31, a post-captain, from a wound received in action.
Trevenen speaking of Greig's early service says.... "...he was long with Keppel in the Torbay, in Hawke's engagement with Conflans ,Quiberon Bay and afterwards at the taking of Belleisle, which latter event was his hobby horse, of which he mostly delighted to talk, as I have heard from others..." page 158.
This adds more confusion to Greig's career in the British Navy which has, in previous accounts, been based on the details in his passing certificate which only takes his career up to January 1761 at which point his service was computed for his passing certificate - it actually comes to three years three months and one day which given that his first vessel was the Firedrake which he joined in October 1758 would bring the period up to January 1761.
10th October 1758 Firedrake ADM 36/5595 page 139
14 May 1759 discharged to Royal George. page 202
15 May 1759 Royal George ADM 36/5747
25 June 1760 discharged to Thunderer ADM 36/5748]
26 June 1760 Thunderer supernumerary ADM 36/6903 page 87
4 September 1760 discharged to Neptune
5 September 1760 Neptune supernumerary ADM 36/6222 page 58
5 November 1760 discharged page 121 - no vessel indicated.
2 March 1761 Royal Sovereign described as Late Ambuscade*ADM 36/6796
28 March 1761 discharged to Valiant
*Amuscade 1760 December-1761 April ADM 36/4863 not present.
Corbett, J. 1907 England in the Seven Years' War: a study in combined strategy. London.
Cross, A.G. 1974 Samuel Greig, Catherine the Great's Scottish Admiral. Mariner's Mirror 60:3 251-265.
James, W. 1902 The naval history of Great Britain. 6 vols London
Lloyd,C & Anderson, R.C. (eds.)1959 A memoir of James Trevenen Navy Records Society.
Prattis, W. G. 1985 Grand Admiral Samuel Greig, father of the Russian Navy. Dunfermline
Rodger,N.A.M. 1987 The wooden world. London
Stephen, W. 1921 History of Inverkeithing and Rosyth Aberdeen.
Syrett, D.(ed.)1970 The siege and capture of Havana 1762. Navy Records Society.
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