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Late 19th Century Engraving of the The Battle of Camperdown, 1890

Engraving. Framed and glazed with a gilt wood slip inscribed with the name and date of Admiral Duncan’s victory - ‘Camperdown, Oct 11 1797’, and the names of the dramatic personae, Admiral Winter, Captain Fairfax [flag captain], and Admiral Lord Duncan.

The British victory at Camperdown, formalized by the Dutch Admiral de Winter’s surrender of his sword on the quarter-deck of the flagship HMS Venerable to Admiral Adam Duncan on 11 October 1797, signalled a moment of reprieve for ‘true Britons’ from ideologically driven French aggression and the threat internal revolution. In the autumn of 1797 Britain had been at war with Revolutionary France for four years. Throughout the summer the French Directory had been encouraging the Dutch fleet to cover a landing of  French 25,000 troops in Ireland in support of a planned rebellion, before proceeding to Scotland and launching a full-scale invasion of England.

 Admiral Adam Duncan had been tasked with blockading the Dutch fleet in the Texel and Den Helder but was hampered by the disaffection below decks which, manifesting itself in the naval mutinies at the Nore and Spithead, reduced Duncan’s effective force to just four ships. Fortunately this fact remained unknown to the Dutch. By early autumn Duncan was ordered to withdraw nearly his whole force to England to collect stores and make repairs when intelligence reached England that the French had delayed the attack on Ireland. The Dutch government meanwhile remained anxious to show solidarity with the French, and ordered the fleet under Admiral de Wynter to sea to engage any isolated British ships. Word of the appearance of the Dutch naval force was speedily sent to England in the cutter Black Joke which had been left on station by Duncan for that same purpose. On Duncan’s return to the Dutch coast he located the enemy at a point off shore between the villages of Egmont and Camperdown. Duncan immediately formed line of battle so as to get the principal Dutch ships between his ships and the shoreline. He further detached a portion of his fleet to leeward to prevent enemy support from the coast. A naval battle of five hours duration ensued, until amid severe losses, Admiral De Winter was forced to strike his colours, and only Duncan and his pilot remained unharmed on the Venerable’s quarter-deck.

The importance of the victory at Camperdown was immediately acknowledged in Britain. On 17 October Duncan was raised to the peerage as Viscount Duncan of Camperdown and Baron Duncan of Lundie. Three days afterwards the City of London conferred the freedom of the city upon him, and presented him with a sword valued at 200 guineas; and on the 25th the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of London waited upon His Majesty with an address of congratulation. Duncan received thanks of both Houses of Parliament, and the Crown bestowed upon him a pension of £2,000 per annum, to be continued to the next two holders of his viscountcy. On the 30th George III set out from Greenwich intending to visit Admiral Duncan on Venerable at Sheerness, but was halted by the weather. A special thanksgiving service was held in St. Paul’s Cathedral on 10th December, 1797, at which the King and the Royal Family, with the Houses of Parliament, were present, Lord Duncan carrying in the procession the defeated Dutch Admiral's flag.

© The Armoury of St James's 17 Piccadilly Arcade London SW1Y 6NH