Robert Calder

Robert Calder

Infobox Military Person
name= Sir Robert Calder, Bt
lived= 13 July 1745 – 1 September 1818
placeofbirth= Elgin, Scotland
placeofdeath= Holt, near Bishop's Waltham, Hampshire, England

caption= Portrait of Robert Calder by Lemuel Francis Abbott, painted 1797
allegiance= flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom
serviceyears= 1759 to 1818
rank= Royal Navy Admiral
battles= Seven Years' War American Revolutionary War French Revolutionary WarsBattle of Cape St Vincent Napoleonic WarsBattle of Cape Finisterre War of the Third Coalition
awards= Knight Commander, Order of the Bath
Admiral Sir Robert Calder, 4th Baronet, KCB (13 July 1745 – 1 September 1818) was a British naval officer who served in the Seven Years' War, the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.

Early life

He was born in Elgin, Scotland, the third son of Sir James Calder and Alice Hughes. His father was the 3rd Baronet Calder of Muirton, who had been appointed Gentleman Usher of the Privy chamber to the queen by Lord Bute in 1761.


Calder was educated at the grammar school of Elgin, and entered the Royal Navy in 1759 at the age of fourteen. As a Midshipman he received £1,800 in prize money for his part in the capture of the Spanish treasure ship "Hermione" on 21 May 1762, and was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant. At that rank he served aboard the "Essex", under Captain the Hon. George Faulkner, in the Caribbean. Promotion came slowly, and it was not until 1782 that he attained the rank of Post-Captain. He commanded the frigate HMS "Diana" under Admiral Richard Kempenfelt, and acquitted himself honourably in the various services to which he was called, but for a long time had no opportunity of distinguishing himself.

In 1796 he was appointed Captain of the Fleet to Admiral John Jervis, and saw action at the battle of Cape St Vincent on 14 February 1797. After the battle he was selected to carry the dispatches announcing the victory back to England, and was knighted by George III on 3 March 1797 for his services. He also received the thanks of Parliament, and was created 1st Baronet Calder of Southwick on 22 August 1798. He married Amelia Michell in May 1779. They had no children.

In 1799 he was promoted to Rear-Admiral; and in 1804, now a Vice-Admiral, was despatched with a small squadron in pursuit of a French force under Admiral Gantheaume, conveying supplies to the French in Egypt. In this he was unsuccessful, and returning home at the peace he struck his flag.

In the War of the Third Coalition (1805-1806) he was in command of the squadrons blockading the ports of Rochefort and Ferrol, in which (amongst others) ships were being prepared for the invasion of England by Napoleon I. Calder held his position with a force greatly inferior to that of the enemy, and refused to be enticed out to sea.

On its becoming known that Napoleon intended to break the blockade of Ferrol, as a prelude to his invasion, the Admiralty ordered Rear-Admiral Charles Stirling to join Calder and intercept the Franco-Spanish fleet on their passage to Brest. The approach of the enemy was concealed by fog; finally on the 22 July 1805 the fleets came into sight. The allies outnumbered the British; but Calder ordered his fleet into action. The ensuing battle of Cape Finisterre was a serious defeat for Napoleon: fifteen British ships had engaged twenty French and Spanish ships and captured two. The British losses were 39 officers and men killed and 159 wounded; the allies lost 158 dead and 320 wounded. After four hours, as night fell, Calder gave orders to discontinue the action. He offered battle again on the two following days, but the challenge was not accepted. The French Admiral Villeneuve, however, did not pursue his voyage, but took refuge in Ferrol, eventually returning to Cádiz. Villeneuve had failed in all his objectives: he had landed no troops in Ireland, and the plan of linking with the fleet at Brest, driving off the British Channel squadrons, and supporting Napoleon's invasion of Britain came to nothing: the Armée d'Angleterre waited uselessly at Boulogne as before. In the judgement of Napoleon, his scheme of invasion was baffled by this day's action; but much indignation was felt in England at the failure of Calder to win a complete victory.

In consequence of the strong feeling against him Calder demanded a court-martial. Nelson eventually relented and sent Calder home in his 98-gun ship the "Prince of Wales", even though he knew that another battle with Villeneuve was imminent. Calder returned to England in early October 1805, thus missing the battle of Trafalgar. The court-martial was held on the 23 December 1805, and resulted in a severe reprimand for Calder for not having done his utmost to renew the engagement, at the same time acquitting him of cowardice and disaffection. Calder never served at sea again. In the natural course of events he was promoted to Admiral on 31 July 1810, and by way of public testimony to his services, and of acquittal of the charge made against him, was created a Knight Commander, Order of the Bath on 2 January 1815, and appointed Commander of Portsmouth. He died at Holt, near Bishop's Waltham, in Hampshire, in 1818.


* William James, "Naval History of Great Britain, 1793–1827".
* George Edward Cokayne, editor, "The Complete Baronetage" (1900).

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