My sixth great grandfather Gordon Skelly was a Captain of the Royal Navy. He died on 22 June 1771, 250 years ago today.

He was born in 1741 at Warkworth, Northumberland, England to the Reverend John Skelly and Lady Betty Skelly née Gordon, daughter of Alexander the second Duke of Gordon.

He first joined the merchant navy in 1755, when he was about 14 years old. From 1757, probably as a midshipman, Skelly served on HMS Devonshire, a 66-gun third rate ship of the line. The commanding officer was William Gordon (1705 – 1769); it sounds as though they were related. William Gordon later became a Rear-Admiral and Commander-in-Chief, The Nore.

In June 1758 Skelly saw action at the Siege of Louisbourg and at the Capture of Quebec in September 1759. He kept a journal from 1757 to 1759. This account seems to hold considerable importance to historical collectors. It was sold in 2003 for $US141,900.

Burning of the French ship Prudent and capture of Bienfaisant, during the siege of Louisbourg in 1758, Richard Paton. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Skelly’s journal has the title “A Journal of two Voyages to North America. In his Majesty’s Ship ye Devonshire, From June 1757 to December 1759. Containing the Expedition against Louisbourgh under the Admirals Holburne and Boscowen; with the Reduction of some places of less note after the Surrender of Louisbourgh in the year 1758. The transactions during the winter at Hallifax in 1759–The arrival of Admiral Saunders with a Fleet against Quebec…to the Surrender of Quebec, and our return to England….“. Skelly recorded the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, also known as the Battle of Quebec, on 13 September 1759. Just outside the walls of Quebec City, “the whole line of the enemy soon gave way, ours pushing on with their bayonets till they took to their heels and were pursued with great slaughter to the walls of the town.”

“Slipping and stumbling the men went on” The British under General Wolfe climbing the heights of Quebec, 1759. Illustration by J. R. Skelton for the book Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall. Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

Gordon Skelly passed his lieutenant’s examination on 5 August 1761 and was commissioned as lieutenant on 1 October 1761. He served on several ships, among them HMS Baltimore, where from 10 October 1762 to 3 December 1762 he kept the Lieutenant’s logbooks.

On 10 January 1771 Skelly was appointed commander of the Royal Navy 10 gun sloop Lynx, stationed at Shields in north-east England. He and seven others were drowned there when the ship’s longboat was overturned by breakers when crossing the harbour bar.

Newcastle Courant 29 June 1771 page 2. Image (and subsequent newspaper image) retrieved through and reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive.
Leeds Intelligencer 2 July 1771
Entrance to Shields Harbour from The Ports, Harbours, Watering-places and Picturesque Scenery of Great Britain Vol. 1 by William Findon retrieved from Project Gutenberg

Gordon Skelly married Dorothy Harrison on 6 June 1766 at Yarm, Yorkshire, the ceremony conducted his father the Reverend John Skelly, Vicar of Stockton.

They had three children:

  • Gordon 1767–1828
  • Dorothy 1768–1840, mother of Sophia Mainwaring née Duff
  • Andrew 1772–1785

His granddaughter Sophia née Duff (1790 – 1824) married Rowland Mainwaring (1783 – 1862).