Roger Curtis - American Revolutionary War

American Revolutionary War

In 1778, Curtis returned to Britain in Eagle, but refused to carry out an order to sail the ship to the Far East, a refusal which earned the enmity of Lord Sandwich. In December of the same year he was married to Jane Sarah Brady. As punishment for his disobedience Curtis was unemployed for the next two years, before he secured the new frigate HMS Brilliant for service in the Mediterranean in 1780. Ordered to Gibraltar, Brilliant was attacked by a superior Spanish squadron close to the fortress and was forced to escape to British-held Minorca. Curtis's first lieutenant Colin Campbell complained extensively about his captain's refusal to leave port while enemy shipping passed by the harbour, but Curtis was waiting for a 25-ship relief convoy which he met and safely convoyed into Gibraltar, bringing supplies to the defenders of the Great Siege of Gibraltar then in progress.

Although Curtis was personally opposed to British possession of Gibraltar, he took command of a marine unit during the siege, and in the attack by Spanish gunboats and floating batteries in September 1782, Curtis took his men into the harbour in small boats to engage the enemy. During this operation, Curtis witnessed the destruction of the batteries by British fireships and was able to rescue hundreds of burnt and drowning Spanish sailors from the water. This rescue effort was carried out in close proximity to the enemy force and in constant danger from the detonation of burning Spanish ships, which showered his overcrowded boats with debris and caused several casualties amongst his crews. When Lord Howe relieved the siege, he brought the much-celebrated Curtis back to Britain, where he was knighted for his service and became a society figure, featuring in many newspaper prints. He came under attack however from Lieutenant Campbell, who published a pamphlet accusing him of indecision and a lack of nerve during his time in Brilliant.

During 1783, Curtis was sent to Morocco to renew treaties with the country and then remained in Gibraltar, accepting the Spanish peace treaty delegates at the war's end. Brilliant was paid off in 1784, although Curtis remained in employment during the peace, commanding HMS Ganges as guardship at Portsmouth. In 1787 he was placed on half-pay, although it has been speculated that during this period he conducted a secret mission to Scandinavia to ensure British supplies on naval materials from the region in the event of war. In the Spanish armament of 1790, Curtis was briefly made flag captain of HMS Queen Charlotte under Howe, but soon transferred to HMS Brunswick. As captain of Brunswick, Curtis had to deal with an outbreak of a deadly and infectious fever. He was successful in controlling the disease and later published and advisory pamphlet on techniques for other officers to follow when faced with contagion aboard their ships.

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