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The Life of Capt Edward Riou &


Artist: Samuel Shelley (1750-1808)

Capt. Edward Riou

born Nov. 20, 1762

at Mount Ephraim (near Faversham, Kent)

died April 2, 1801

in the Battle of Copenhagen


The Guardian returns to Table Bay 22 Feb.1790 watercolor by Lt. Edward Riou

NOTE: the two ensigns flags are flying upside down as a distress signal

Off the coast of Africa 1789

The GUARDIAN was built by Robert Batson in March 1784 at Limehouse ship building docks, London. Wrecked 1790 off coast of South Africa ) She was (Clipper) a fifth-rate of 879 tons 44 guns an armed en flute 140 feet overall,commanded by 26 year old Lt.(N) Edward Riou.

The Guardian was laden with stores for the new settlement at Port Jackson. (now Sydney, Australia) ONE OF THE SHIP IN THE FIRST FLEET (last to sail alone) 0n 24 December 1789, at lat. 44deg. S., long. 41deg. 30min. E., click for LOCATION MAP the weather being extremely foggy, an island of ice was seen about 3 miles away. Lieut. Riou approached to collect ice for water to supply the large number of cattle they had on board. The boats brought off several lumps while the ship lay to, then sail was made to stand off. The bow of the ship struck on an invisible, underwater part of the ice and her stern swung round, knocking off the rudder and badly damaging the stern frame, the ship becoming embedded under the terrific bulk of ice.



When at last the sails filled she began to forge off but struck again and continued crashing on the ice underneath her until she at last got clear. While they were congratulating themselves on escaping with little more than the loss of the rudder, the carpenter reported two feet of water in the hold and that it was increasing fast. Some time was spent getting the chain pumps working, mean while the cattle were cleared off the deck and a few hands between decks managed to get up and heave overboard most of the bags of flour, peas, wheat, barley, etc. that had been taken on in the Cape of Good Hope.All the officers and men had been employed on clearing and pumping so Lieut. Riou, realizing that they would soon be exhausted, divided them into two watches and sent one half for refreshments. At daylight on the 25th it was blowing a gale but they managed, with great difficulty, to get one of the lower studding sails filled with oakum under the ship's bottom. They were able to pump the water down to only 19 inches but the gale increased and the fore and maintop sails were blown to pieces leaving them at the mercy of the waves. When the starboard pump broke down the water reached to the orlop deck and was gaining a foot every half an hour. Many of the people were now so despondent that they left the pumps to secrete themselves and waited to perish with the ship. The ship began to settle aft and water poured in through the rudder case so Lieut. Riou ordered the boats to be hoisted out and allowed those who wished, to leave in them. The launch, with only 8 men on board, was swept clear but rowed back and received some provisions. A small quantity of biscuit and an 18-gallon cask of water was lowered into the small cutter and Mr. Wadman, Mr. Tremlett and the purser jumped down into her. Mr. Somerville and John Spearman, a seaman, jumped into the water and swam to the launch which also took Messrs. Clements, Wadman, Tremlett, the purser, the Rev. Mr. Crowther, and two more of the men, out of the cutter, with two bags of biscuit and some water. Mr. Brady, midshipman, Mr. Fletcher, captain's clerk, and five seamen remained in the cutter but they could not be prevailed upon to return to the ship to take on more people and supplies. Mr. Clements handed over a spare compass and quadrant to the jolly boat, which had no water or provisions. Meanwhile Lt. Riou and the remainder of the crew continued in the ship which, though waterlogged, still floated. The ballast had been washed out of a large hole in her bows and the casks in the hold provided buoyancy. Indeed, in moderate weather, she was able to make 4 knots and Lieut. Riou could keep her head on the course he wished to steer. His chief preoccupation was with his dispirited crew. Who frequently threatened mutiny and at one time completed a raft on which they determined to take their chance, rather than remain on the ship. He persuaded them that the plan would lead to certain death. At length, on 21 February 1790, after nearly two months, land was sighted, and the GUARDIAN was towed into Table Bay by whaleboats belonging to a British ship. When he was frustrated in his attempts to get the ship round to Saldanha Bay, Lieut. Riou was forced to beach her in Table Bay.(CapeTown SA} Those saved in the GUARDIAN were: The Hon. Thomas Pitt (who became Lord Camelford); Messrs. John Gore and David Gilmor, midshipmen; John Williams, boatswain; Murray Sampson, carpenter; John Fairclough, surgeon's mate, thirty seamen and boys; twenty-one convicts and three of their superintendants and one female. The people in the launch had already been rescued by a French merchantman on the 4 January and taken into Table Bay (Cape Town SA) on the 18th. Nothing is known of the fate of the remainder. As months had passed, the ship and crew all presumed loss, the news in England was received with jubilance and the London Times heralded Edward as a hero. Edward appealed for the convict pardons for their aid and assistance in safely returning the ship to Table Bay. Lieut. Riou was eventually made a post captain and was killed at the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801 while commanding the H.M.S Amazon frigate (38) (The Bomb Vessel) , The Amazon was launched in 1799.Captain Edward Riou was in charge of the six frigates ( the Blanche, Alcmene, Dart, Arrow, Zephyr and Otter), to attack of the ships at the harbour's mouth and crown battery ) at the Battle of Copenhagen. SEE MAP BELOW Riou took his squadron of ships north to attack the Danes, closer to where Admiral Sir Hyde Parker was stationed. When the battle began, inconsequence of three of the English ships having got on shore, the Crown battery was left unopposed. Riou, with the frigates, endeavoured to fill the void, but their feeble armament was no match for the battery's heavy guns, and they suffered great loss all her senior officers were killed. On seeing the 'cease action' signal given by Parker, Riou retreated saying, "What will Nelson think of us?" Riou, now exposed to enemy fire,he was severely wounded in the head by a splinter, but was sitting on a gun-carriage encouraging his men when he was killed by a cannon ball that cut him in two leaving John Quilliam in command. Mr. Gilmor became a commander in September 1799 he died on 17 September 1829, aged 54

Tributes & Honours

Nelson, who had no acquaintance with him before 31 March, was much struck by the discipline of the Amazon, and conceived an immediate affection for him.

" in poor dear Riou,' he wrote, "the country has sustained an irreparable loss" Lord Nelson


Parliament voted that a monument of Edward be built at St. Paul's Cathedral by sculptor J.C.F.Rossi.

Monument to Captains Edward Riou & James Mosse, by John Charles Felix Rossi, in St Paul's Cathedral.
Includes sculptures of two angels holding profile medallion portraits of the men.
NOTE: If anyone could provide a photo of this monument for this site it would be much appreciated. RB

In literature his name will live on as "The Gallant Good Riou" of Campbell's ballad.

Honoured in Art

Later Honours

Second world war British Destroyer Escort named after him H.M.S. RIOU

K-557 built by USN lend lease to Britain December 14 1943.

WW2 ship named HMS GUARDIAN, British Pacific Fleet

I have found that Edward was of exceptional character

he embodied what a good officer should be! His good judgement,

his compassion, his sense of duty and heroism was above reproach. Sir Robert Burns

NOTE: sale of Benson's collection of Riou material 1968
The Riou papers, Riou's original logbook and narrative of the voyage of H.M.S. Guardian, together with other manuscripts and the ship's
pennant which was specially commissioned for the voyage to Port Jackson, New South Wales, 1789-1790
The collection came up for auction at Sotheby's in 1968.
It seems that much of the material, including the original logbook kept by Riou , is now held by the National Maritime Museum (UK)
The material from the National Maritime Museum, including the logbook of the Guardian, is on microfilm.

Edward Riou explored
with Capt Cook
on third voyage covering the
Bering Sea and west coast of Canada

Website By Robert Burns Historian © copyright
Alberta, Canada

Site Updated March 18, 2005

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